Bee poisoning is caused by a sting from a bee, wasp, or yellow jacket.
This is for information only and not for use in the treatment or management of an actual poison exposure. If you have an exposure, you should call your local emergency number (such as 911) or the National Poison Control Center at 1-800-222-1222.
See also: Bee sting
Apitoxin poisoning; Apis venenum purum poisoning; Apis virus poisoning
Bee, wasp, and yellow jacket stings contain a substance called venom. Africanized bee colonies are extremely sensitive to disturbance, respond faster in greater numbers, and are up to 10 times more likely to sting than European bees.
- Yellow jackets
Eyes, ears, nose, and throat:
- Abdominal cramping
Heart and blood vessels:
- Severe decrease in blood pressure
- Collapse *
- Hives *
- Swelling and pain at site of sting
* These symptoms are due to an allergic reaction, and not venom.
If you have an allergy to bee, wasp, or yellow jacket stings, it is important to always carry a bee sting kit (which requires a prescription) and become familiar with its use. The kit contains medicine called epinephrine, which you should take immediately if you get a bee sting.
Call poison control or a hospital emergency room if the person who is stung has an allergy to the insect or was stung inside the mouth or throat. People with severe reactions may need to go to the hospital.
To treat the bee sting:
- Remove the stinger from the skin (if it is still present).
- Carefully scrape the back of a knife or other thin straight-edged object across the stinger if the person is able to remain still, and it is safe to do so. Otherwise, you can pull out the stinger with tweezers or your fingers, but avoid pinching the venom sac at the end of the stinger. If this sac is broken, more venom will be released.
- Clean the area thoroughly with soap and water.
- Place ice (wrapped in a washcloth or other covering) on the site of the sting for 10 minutes and then off for 10 minutes. Repeat this process. If the person has circulatory problems, decrease the time that the ice is on the area to prevent possible skin damage.
- Give the person diphenhydramine (Benadryl) by mouth if he or she can swallow. This antihistamine drug may be used alone for mild symptoms.
Before Calling Emergency
Determine the following information:
- Patient's age, weight, and condition
- Type of insect, if possible
- Time of the bee sting
What to Expect at the Emergency Room
The National Poison Control Center (1-800-222-1222) can be called from anywhere in the United States. This national hotline number will let you talk to experts in poisoning. They will give you further instructions.
This is a free and confidential service. All local poison control centers in the United States use this national number. You should call if you have any questions about poisoning or poison prevention. It does NOT need to be an emergency. You can call for any reason, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
See: Poison control center - emergency number
The health care provider will measure and monitor your vital signs, including temperature, pulse, breathing rate, and blood pressure. Symptoms will be treated as appropriate. You may receive:
- Medicines to treat any allergic reaction
- Blood and urine tests
- Breathing assistance
- EKG (electrocardiogram, or heart tracing)
- Fluids through a vein (IV)
How well you do depends on how allergic you are to the insect sting and how quickly you receive treatment. The faster you get medical help, the better the chance for recovery. The chances of future total body reactions increase when local reactions become increasingly severe.
Patients who are not allergic to bees or wasps usually get better within 1 week.
Wear protective clothing whenever possible when travelling through terrain which is known to harbor bees, wasps or yellow jackets. Do not stick your hands in their nests.
Clark RF, Schneir AB. Arthropod bites and stings. In: Tintinalli JE, Kelen GD, Stapczynski JS, Ma OJ, Cline DM, eds. Emergency Medicine: A Comprehensive Study Guide. 6th ed. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill; 2004:chap 194.
Erickson, TB, Márquez A, Jr. Arthropod Envenomation and Parasitism. In: Auerbach PS, ed. Wilderness Medicine. 6th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Mosby Elsevier; 2011:chap 50.
Jacob L. Heller, MD, MHA, Emergency Medicine, Virginia Mason Medical Center, Seattle, Washington. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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