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How to Treat a Bee Sting at Home (and When to Head to the Hospital)

Bee stings can be life-threatening if you have an allergic reaction. Here’s what you need to know.

by Brianna Steinhilber /

Most of us have probably been stung by a bee or a wasp, and while it can be pretty painful, bee stings are generally harmless.

That said, it is estimated that nearly two million Americans are allergic to bee stings. What exactly happens in our bodies when we are stung that causes a reaction? According to the Mayo Clinic, when a bee jabs their barbed stinger into the skin, it injects venom that contains proteins that affect skin cells and the immune system, causing pain and swelling around the sting area. People who are allergic to bees are actually having an immune response to this venom.

If a run in with a bee has left you with a painful sting, you’ll want to know how to reduce the pain, and treat the wound. To get the bottom of it, we teamed up with the special effects team at SyFy Channel's Face Off and Dr. John Torres, NBC News Medical Correspondent, to create realistic bee stings, both minor and more severe, to show you how to treat a them at home — and when you should head to the hospital.

Dr. Torres says that the majority of the stings he sees in emergency rooms don't actually need professional medical attention, but some do. The number one thing you want to look for is swelling in the face, says Dr. Torres. Here's what you need to know:

WHEN TO TREAT A BEE STING AT HOME

  • The light swelling and redness are local to the sting.
  • There is no allergic reaction.

HOW TO TREAT A BEE STING AT HOME

  • Step 1: Remove the stinger as soon as possible with tweezers.
  • Step 2: Reduce reaction using an ice pack.
  • Step 3: Use antihistamine or calamine cream and oatmeal baths to reduce itching.
  • Step 4: Benadryl can reduce swelling in bigger reactions.

RELATED: How to Treat a Bug Bite at Home (and When to Head to the Hospital)

WHEN TO HEAD TO THE ER TO TREAT A BEE STING

  • There’s any swelling in the face (especially if you were stung elsewhere).
  • There’s swelling in the lips, tongue, throat or eyes.

If you have any of the symptoms above, go to the ER immediately for professional treatment. "You want to be concerned because it can get to the throat and cut off your breathing, which, of course, is life threatening," says Dr. Torres.

According to the Mayo Clinic, people who have an severe allergic reaction to a bee sting have a 30 to 60 percent chance of anaphylaxis the next time they're stung. So if you have a serious reaction, it’s worthwhile to talk to your doctor about prevention measures to reduce the response (like having an EpiPen on hand) the next time you’re stung.

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