Sting Treatment and Considerations

By Camilla Bee, Editor

In our last issue, we asked readers to share their experiences with stings. Unfortunately, they are a part of beekeeping, seemingly no matter how careful or well-clothed someone might be. New-bees seem especially prone to stings, so we’re running this article in our A-Bee-Cs section. We “old-bees” have likely already figured it out based on too much experience!

With most colonies at about peak populations, and with plenty of stores to protect, this is a time of year when stinging is perhaps a bit more common.

We’ll be featuring more of what readers shared in future issues, and as always, welcome your emails at any time. For this issue, we’ve pulled some of the emails on treating stings.

Respondees shared a variety of treatments, although there is one common piece of advice. First, get the stinger out as quickly as possible, because it continues to pump venom while imbedded in the skin, even if the honeybee has left.

When removing the stinger, scrape it out, like with a hive tool or, um, the credit card you happen to carry in your bee suit pocket. Pinching the stinger releases more venom; scraping does not.

The Reaction

A person’s reaction to a sting depends on things like how their body handles it, how imbedded the stinger was and for how long, and the age of the bee. A “normal” reaction will cause some initial specific pain, followed by inflammation and often, a burning sensation. As Scott S. shared, “it feels like someone is grinding out a cigarette on me, except the cigarette doesn’t go out for a long time!”

And then, there are the “abnormal” reactions, like the folks who get stung and don’t even notice (yes, I’ve seen it!)

“Abnormal” also includes the small segment of the population that reacts severely. Because that reaction may be fatal for these folks, beekeepers should know the signs and watch for them. Signs that warrant calling 911 include:

  • Trouble breathing

  • Feelings of fainting or dizziness

  • Hives

  • A swollen tongue

  • History of a severe allergic reaction

Severe Reactions

If the person has a history of severe allergic reactions (anaphylaxis), they should carry an epinephrine pen and use it (or have it used on them) immediately. We recommend all beekeepers understand this reaction possibility. Internet sites such as WebMD and MayoClinic provide excellent insights. 

What Do Readers Recommend?

The use of Benadryl® was a consistent recommendation, and ice and cold compresses are helpful if inflammation becomes uncomfortable.

Other advice:

“My sister told me something in deodorant helps lessen the inflammation. Of course, having taken about 20 stings in two years I might be getting used to them, but deodorant on the last half dozen has seemed to help. I rub it on the sting almost immediately.” —M. B., Indiana

“When I do get a sting I usually put on either Benadryl® or hydrocortisone cream. This seems to help dull the itch and burn. Only in that bad reaction did I take 50 mg of Benadryl® every six hours for two days.

Just FYI your ear is mostly cartilage and if the stinger gets into the cartilage, there is not a heavy enough blood supply to this type of tissue to get the toxins out quickly, hence two days of Benadryl®.” —Brad S., MO

“I swear by ‘Stops the Sting.’” —ReBecca, IL 


David D. shared his unfortunate story (above, in blue box), along with his treatment approach. “I drank my dose of Benadryl® and as a precaution sat with a bag of frozen peas on my face while the neighbors monitored me for any further sting reaction. Good news—I had a nice visit with friends while Iris did her talk, but it was not a pretty sight.” (See his photo, left.)

“I try various sting remedies and have never found one so good that I stick with it.” —Andrew M.

Julian suggested a bleach pen, available in the laundry aisle, noting that a drop on the sting area neutralizes the venom.

“Nothing I have found reduces the several days of swelling I experience with single stings.” —C. Dunlap




  • email