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Bee Prepared: How to Treat a Bee Sting

Friday Apr 13, 2018

It can happen fast. One minute you're hanging out with friends at a picnic or park on a warm, spring day. The next minute a piercing scream reveals that someone has been stung by a bee. To help alleviate the panic, dermatologists from the American Academy of Dermatology say it's a good idea to know what to do - and not do - to treat a bee sting.

"The first thing to do is to get the stinger out quickly," said board-certified dermatologist Carrie Kovarik, MD, FAAD, an associate professor of dermatology, dermatopathology and infectious diseases at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. "The longer the stinger stays in the skin, the more venom it releases, adding to the person's pain and swelling."

To treat a sting from a bee, wasp or hornet, Dr. Kovarik recommends the following tips:

1. Stay calm. Although most bees usually only sting once, wasps and hornets can sting again. If you are stung, calmly walk away from the area to avoid additional attacks.

2. Remove the stinger. If the stinger remains in your skin, remove it by scraping over it with your fingernail or a piece of gauze. Never use tweezers to remove a stinger, as squeezing it can cause more venom to release into your skin.

3. Wash the sting with soap and water.

4. Apply a cold pack to reduce swelling. However, if the swelling moves to other parts of your body, such as your face or neck, go to the emergency room immediately, as you might be having an allergic reaction. Other signs of an allergic reaction include difficulty breathing, nausea, hives, or dizziness. People with a known allergy to bee stings should talk to their doctor about having an epinephrine injector available.

5. Consider taking over-the-counter pain medication. Bee, wasp, and hornet stings are painful. Painkillers like acetaminophen or ibuprofen can help relieve the pain. If the sting is itchy, consider taking an over-the-counter antihistamine. Always follow the directions on the label and use the correct dose.

"Although most people do not experience severe reactions to bee stings, it's a good idea to keep an eye on anyone who has been stung in case they develop more serious symptoms," said Dr. Kovarik. "If you notice any signs of an allergic reaction, or if you or someone you know has been stung multiple times - particularly if he or she is a child - seek medical attention immediately."


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