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Treating Bee Stings

by Sue Hubbard, M.D.

I was outside today and noticed that the bees are back, pollinating the flowers in my garden, but ready to sting too if they are crossed by bare feet or errant hands. Bee stings are a right of passage during childhood, always memorable, but never fun.

Our office receives numerous calls about how to handle a bee sting. First thing is to get some ice or a cool compress on the sting, which relives both PAIN and swelling. While the ice is working you can take a peek and see if the stinger is still in the skin, and if so do not go grab tweezers or your fingernails to try and remove the stinger. If you do that you will only make the sting worse. The best way to remove the stinger is by using the edge of a credit card to gently scrape the stinger out of the skin. Honey Bees leave behind their stinger while wasps and hornets do not.

Unless the child is allergic to bee stings most people will only have a local reaction. If there are any symptoms associated with the sting such as swelling of face, mouth, lips, or difficulty swallowing or breathing, give an immediate dose of Benadryl (diphenhydramine) while calling 911. If the child has a known bee hypersensitivity and they have an epi pen you will need to use it and also call 911.

For local reactions after the sting is cleaned you can apply calamine lotion or a topical steroid cream. For swelling and discomfort a dose of Benadryl is also recommended, as well as a pain reliever like ibuprofen which will also relieve local inflammation along with pain relief. The sting is usually not uncomfortable for more than 24 hours. Make sure to watch for signs of infection with increasing redness, streaking or pain at the site of the sting. If the area seems to be getting worse rather than better it is a good idea to let you pediatrician take a peek.

That’s your daily dose for today, we’ll chat again tomorrow.

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