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Quick Facts

Bee, Wasp, Hornet, and Ant Stings


The Manual's Editorial Staff

Last full review/revision Sep 2019
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Stings from bees, wasps, hornets, and ants are common and can be painful.

Fire ants are very common in southern parts of the United States, especially the Gulf region, such as Texas, Louisiana, Alabama, Georgia, and Florida.

  • Some people have severe allergic reactions to stings and can get seriously ill or die when stung

  • Most people don't have serious reactions to stings

  • Africanized honeybees (killer bees) from South America are now found in some southern states—these bees travel in large groups and a swarm of them can sting you, causing serious problems and even death

  • Treat stings by removing stingers and using a cream or ointment to lessen pain

What are the symptoms of bee, wasp, hornet, and ant stings?

Symptoms of bee, wasp, and hornet stings

  • Sudden burning and pain

  • Redness, swelling, and itching around the sting

  • Over 2 to 3 days, some stings swell to the size of golf balls

Honeybees often leave their stingers in you. Other bees, wasps, and hornets won't leave their stingers in you.

Symptoms of fire ant stings

  • Sudden pain

  • Redness and swelling that goes away after about 45 minutes

  • A pus-filled blister forms

  • About 2 to 3 days later, the blister breaks open and may get infected

Some people may have:

  • A red, swollen, itchy patch instead of a pus-filled blister

  • Seizures (when your body moves and jerks out of your control)

Symptoms of an allergic reaction to a sting

If you have an allergic reaction to a sting, you may have:

  • An itchy rash all over your body

  • Trouble breathing

  • Wheezing (a whistling sound while breathing)

  • Shock (a dangerously low drop in blood pressure)

Get to a hospital right away if you have these symptoms—you could be having an anaphylactic reaction (a life-threatening allergic reaction in which your blood pressure drops and you can’t breathe).

How are bee, wasp, hornet, and ant stings treated?

If you don’t have an allergic reaction:

  • Remove the stinger if it’s in your skin by scraping the area with a thin dull edge, such as the edge of a credit card

  • Put ice on the sting (wrap an ice cube in plastic and a thin cloth so it isn’t directly on your skin) to lessen the pain

  • Take over-the-counter medicines for pain relief

  • Put a medicated cream on the area to lessen pain and itching

If you're allergic to stings, you should carry epinephrine (a prescription medicine) and use it immediately if you're stung. It'll stop your allergic reaction. You inject the epinephrine into your own skin through a thin needle, or someone will do it for you.

If you have a severe allergic reaction, doctors will:

  • Keep you in the hospital to care for you

  • Give you medicines through your vein, including epinephrine

  • Give you fluids through your vein

  • Tell you to always carry epinephrine with you and wear a medical alert bracelet in case you are stung again

  • Recommend you go through desensitization, a process in which doctors give you allergy shots to prevent severe reactions to stings

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