Children's Hospital Colorado

Bee or Yellow Jacket Sting

Urgent or Emergency Care?

If you believe your child needs immediate attention and you have concerns for a life-threatening emergency, call 911. Not sure what counts as urgent and what's an emergency when your child is sick or injured? When it can't wait, know where to take your kids.

Help Me Decide

  • Stung by a honeybee, bumblebee, hornet, wasp, or yellow jacket
  • Over 95 percent of stings are from honey bees or yellow jackets
  • The main symptoms are pain and redness

Cause of Bee Sting Reactions

  • The bee's stinger injects venom into the skin.
  • The venom is what causes the symptoms.

Local Skin Reactions to the Sting

  • The main symptoms are pain, itching, swelling and redness at the sting site.
  • Pain. Severe pain or burning at the site lasts 1 to 2 hours. Itching often follows the pain.
  • Swelling. The bee sting may swell for 48 hours after the sting. The swelling can be small or large. Stings on the face can cause a lot of swelling around the eye. It looks bad, but this is not serious. The swelling may last for 7 days.
  • Redness. Bee stings are often red. That doesn't mean they are infected. Infections rarely happen with stings. The redness can last 3 days.

Anaphylactic Reaction to the Sting

  • A severe life-threatening allergic reaction is called anaphylaxis.
  • The main symptoms are hives with trouble breathing and swallowing. It starts within 2 hours of the sting.
  • This severe reaction to bee stings happens in 4 out of a 1,000 children.
  • Hives. After a bee sting, some children just develop hives all over or face swelling. Hives or face swelling alone may be able to be treated at home. But, at times, these symptoms can also lead to anaphylaxis. Be sure to call your doctor now to help decide.

Prevention of Bee Stings

  • Don't go barefoot if bees are around.
  • Be careful in gardens and orchards.
  • Insect repellents do not work against these stinging insects.

Call 911 Now

  • Past severe allergic reaction to bee stings (not just hives) and stung less than 2 hours ago
  • Wheezing or trouble breathing
  • Hoarseness, cough or tightness in the throat or chest
  • Trouble swallowing or drooling
  • Speech is slurred
  • Acts or talks confused
  • Passed out or too weak to stand
  • You think your child has a life-threatening emergency

Go to ER Now

  • Hives or swelling all over the body

Call Doctor Now or Go to ER

  • Sting inside the mouth
  • Sting on the eye
  • Stomach pain or vomiting
  • More than 5 stings for 10 pounds (5 kg) of weight. (In teens, more than 50 stings)
  • Fever and sting looks infected (spreading redness)
  • Your child looks or acts very sick
  • You think your child needs to be seen, and the problem is urgent

Call Doctor Within 24 Hours

  • More than 48 hours since the sting and redness getting larger. (Note: Infection is not common. It does not start until at least 24-48 hours after the sting. Redness that starts in the first 24 hours is due to venom)
  • Swelling is huge (4 inches or 10 cm). It spreads across a joint such as the wrist.
  • You think your child needs to be seen, but the problem is not urgent

Call Doctor During Office Hours

  • You have other questions or concerns

Self Care at Home

  • Normal reaction to bee or yellow jacket

Care Advice for Bee or Yellow Jacket Sting

  1. What You Should Know About Bee Stings:
    • Bee stings are common.
    • The main symptoms are pain and redness.
    • The swelling can be large. This does not mean it's an allergy.
    • Here is some care advice that should help.
  2. Try to Remove the Stinger (if present):
    • Only honey bees leave a stinger.
    • The stinger looks like a tiny black dot in the sting.
    • Use a fingernail or credit card edge to scrape it off.
    • If the stinger is below the skin surface, leave it alone. It will come out with normal skin shedding.
  3. Meat Tenderizer for Pain Relief:
    • Make a meat tenderizer paste with a little water. Use a cotton ball to rub it on the sting. Do this once for 20 minutes. Reason: This may neutralize the venom and reduce the pain and swelling. Caution: Do not use near the eye.
    • If you don't have any, use an aluminum-based deodorant. You can also put a baking soda paste on the sting. Do this for 20 minutes.
  4. Cold Pack for Pain:
    • If pain does not improve after using the meat tenderizer paste, rub with an ice cube.
    • Do this for 20 minutes.
  5. Pain Medicine:
    • To help with the pain, give an acetaminophen product (such as Tylenol).
    • Another choice is an ibuprofen product (such as Advil).
    • Use as needed.
  6. Steroid Cream for Itching:
    • For itching or swelling, put 1% hydrocortisone cream (such as Cortaid) on the sting.
    • No prescription is needed.
    • Use 3 times per day.
  7. Allergy Medicine for Itching:
    • For hives or severe itching, give a dose of Benadryl.
  8. What to Expect:
    • Severe pain or burning at the site lasts 1 to 2 hours.
    • Normal swelling from venom can increase for 48 hours after the sting.
    • The redness can last 3 days.
    • The swelling can last 7 days.
  9. Call Your Doctor If:
    • Trouble breathing or swallowing occurs (mainly during the 2 hours after the sting). Call 911.
    • Redness gets larger after 2 days
    • Swelling becomes huge
    • Sting starts to look infected
    • You think your child needs to be seen
    • Your child becomes worse

Care Advice for Bee or Yellow Jacket Sting

Bee Sting of Upper Arm

This photo shows the typical localized reaction to a bee sting. There is mild redness in an oval 4 inches (10 cm) wide of the left upper arm.

Bee Sting of Left Hand

Moderate swelling of left hand from a bee sting that occurred the day before.

Wasp
First Aid - Shock - Child
  • Lie down with the feet elevated (Reason: counteract shock).
First Aid - Removing a Stinger

The stinger looks like as a tiny black dot in the center of the sting. There are several different methods of removal. Removing the stinger quickly is more important than the type of removal used.

  • You can scrape it out with a credit card or finger nail.
  • You can also use adhesive tape.
  • If only a small fragment remains, don't worry about it. It will shed with the skin.

Special Notes:

  • In many cases no stinger will be present.
  • Only bees leave their stingers. Wasps, yellow jackets, and hornets do not.
Honeybee Collecting Pollen
Paper Wasp

A paper wasp (Polistes dominulus) in its nest.

Hornet

Bald-faced "hornet" (Dolichovespula maculata).

Disclaimer

The information contained in these topics is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, it is provided for educational purposes only. You assume full responsibility for how you choose to use this information.

Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider before starting any new treatment or discontinuing an existing treatment. Talk with your healthcare provider about any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Nothing contained in these topics is intended to be used for medical diagnosis or treatment.

  • Not a Substitute - The information and materials in Pediatric HouseCalls Symptom Checker should not be used as a substitute for the care and knowledge that your physician can provide to you.
  • Supplement - The information and materials presented here in Pediatric HouseCalls Symptom Checker are meant to supplement the information that you obtain from your physician. If there is a disagreement between the information presented herein and what your physician has told you -- it is more likely that your physician is correct. He or she has the benefit of knowing your child's medical problems.
  • Limitations - You should recognize that the information and materials presented here in Pediatric HouseCalls Symptom Checker have the following limitations, in comparison to being examined by your own physician:
    • You can have a conversation with your child's doctor.
    • Your child's doctor can perform a physical examination and any necessary tests.
    • Your child could have an underlying medical problem that requires a physician to detect.
    • If your child is taking medications, they could influence how he experiences various symptoms.

If you think that your child is having a medical emergency, call 911 or the number for the local emergency ambulance service NOW!

And when in doubt, call your child's doctor NOW or go to the closest emergency department.

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