Treat Bee Stings and Other Bug Bites

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BumblebeeOne of the downsides to summer, bee stings can be pretty painful annoyances. And there are plenty of other flying attackers ready to zap you when you step outdoors in the summer, too. “The stinging insects that can cause reactions are the honeybee, the bumblebee, the yellow jacket, the yellow hornet, the white-faced hornet, and any of several varieties of wasp,” says Wilfred Beaucher, M.D., an internist, allergist, and immunologist in Chelmsford, Massachusetts, and Nashua, New Hampshire. The honeybee—a brownish, hairy creature—usually loses its stinger when it gets you. The other stinging insects, which have stingers that they can withdraw from your flesh, can attack repeatedly.

We failed to mention the killer bee, didn’t we? Actually, killer bees are a breed of African honeybees that have interbred with American varieties to form an unusually aggressive insect. Africanized bees defend their nests zealously, and people who come too close occasionally get multiple stings. The bees are widespread in Arizona and Texas and have entered California. The best protection from their sting is to stay away from bees’ nests in general, doctors say. If you have been stung and the reaction hasn’t spread to the rest of your body, here’s what you can do to relieve the pain and itching.

Remove the Bee’s Stinger
The first thing you should do after you’ve been stung by a bee is try to extract the stinger and venom sac, says Edward Kent, M.D., a pediatric allergist with Timberlane Allergy and Asthma Associates in South Burlington, Vermont. “The venom sac looks like a tiny bag,” Dr. Kent says. “If the bag is in place, you probably have a honeybee sting. Don’t squeeze or smash it—you could end up injecting more poison into yourself. Instead, take a credit card and flick the sac away with a light scraping motion.”

Try the Little Chill
“Once you’ve made sure the stinger is out and the area is clean, put an ice cube directly on the sting for a few minutes,” says Ronald Lentz, M.D., medical director of the Block Island Medical Center in Rhode Island.

Soothe the Bee Allergy
“Take an antihistamine such as diphenhydramine—the active ingredient in Benadryl—to reduce the itching and swelling of a bee sting,” Dr. Kent says. Diphenhydramine is available over the counter at drugstores.

Rub on Ammonia on a Bee Sting
Here’s an old-time bee sting remedy: ammonia. Ammonia is alkaline, making it counteract the acidic toxins in insect venom. “It works,” Dr. Beaucher says.

Don’t Be Attractive to Bees
How do you avoid a repeat performance? “If you are going to be outside where bees are, wear non-floral-print clothing,” Dr. Beaucher says. “Bees are attracted to flowers. They’re also attracted to pictures of flowers.” Avoid wearing such flower-like colors as yellow, red, orange, and green. “Pink, blue, and white are good to wear,” he says. “Bees don’t like those colors.”

Be careful not to smell too nice, either. “Don’t wear perfume or scented products like hair spray,” Dr. Beaucher says.

Last Ditch Effort
If no other treatment is available for bee stings, one of the simplest old-time treatments is a handful of mud. Just scoop up the mud and hold it on the sting until the mud dries.

Excerpt from Home Remedies from a Country Doctor brought to you by Skyhorse Publishing

  • This article gives some good advice but I would have preferred that the photo did not show a picture of a lovely bumble bee foraging for pollen. These bees tend not to be aggressive unless protecting a nest and will not sting unless provoked which is hard to do. Our native bees and honey bees are in serious trouble and they don’t need the bad press. In my experience it is the wasps and yellow jackets that are more likely to sting you unprovoked. I try to attract bees to my yard and show my kids how awesome they are when collecting pollen.


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