How to Lessen the Honey Bee Sting Swelling Reaction

The number one complaint about bees….stings. In all our years raising honey bees in MN, we’ve racked up our fair share of bee stings, and we’ve learned a thing or two about how to reduce the swelling.

Honey Bee Sting Swelling Home Remedy Options

  • Onions – people claim that rubbing the sting with a cut onion reduces the sting, the pain and the swelling. Our verdict, it was okay but messy and not all that convenient.
  • Plantain – people claim that plantain reduces swelling and itching. This is easy to use as you can just grab a leaf and chew it up, putting the wet green paste on your wound. This works pretty well, but it leaves you green and you may or may not have plantain around (if you do, save some from summer to make a salve. It has many uses.)
  • Oatmeal – taking an oatmeal bath feels nice and probably doesn’t hurt anything. It didn’t really help with our stings
  • Epsom salts – same as the oatmeal, epsom salts make a nice muscle relaxing bath, but didn’t really help our stings.
  • Cold spoon – putting a cold spoon on the site does take away the itch temporarily. It’s never been cold when I’ve been stung by a bee though, so a cold spoon is almost never around when you need one.

Tried and true methods to reduce bee sting swelling

  • Zinc – Zinc works to relieve skin itching. You can find it in calamine lotion or you can buy zinc oxide and mix that into your homemade balms and salves.
  • Benadryl – We always carry benadryl and an epi-pen in our bee suits. There is no telling when a true anaphylatic episode could happen and it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Tips to lessen the risk of honey bee sting infection and swelling

  • Never wear rings or tight jewelry while beekeeping. We are most commonly stung on our hands and if your finger should swell up, there is a high likelihood your ring will be stuck on your hand.
  • Move slowly around bees and never swat. This lessens the chance of being stung
  • Treat the sting immediately – either with hydrogen peroxide, your favorite salve, a bacitracin ointment, plaintain, or benadryl.
  • Wear gloves when working with or around bees/insects. We almost always wear these nitrile gloves while working our bees.

All of the above methods work well for at least some people. They cost very little and are relatively convenient. Speed is important. You do want to treat the area quickly, even if it seems like you aren’t reacting to the venom.

It’s common to have no immediate reaction only to have delayed reaction a few hours later. If this happens to you, start treating when you notice a change. Also – know when to call a doctor. Get to know what a normal honey bee sting reaction looks like vs allergic honey bee sting reactions. Swelling that closes your eyes or throat, skin that swells so much it starts to ooze and is hot to the touch, a fever, or limbs swollen so that circulation is being cut off – these are all reasons to head to the Emergency Room.


This is poison ivy

Last, but certainly not least, we have found one additional method that has greatly improved our experience with stings and with poison ivy rashes.

One of us tends to get poison ivy rashes at least 6 or 7 times a summer. She is super allergic and usually gets a fully body rash that oozes and itches and swells. It’s miserable and generally required a trip to the doctor for prednisone and antibiotics (sadly, the rash usually becomes infected.) Until…….

Just one of many poison ivy adventures.

We figured out that hot water on poison ivy rash relieves the itch. It really does. For hours. The theory is that the heat denatures histamine (the neurochemical responsible for itch and part of the inflammatory response) and leaves the sufferer without the urge to itch until the body can build up the histamine again.

This was discovered after a scalding hot bath left her without any itch for the night. This turned into a few trips to the shower over the two weeks period of the rash. Eventually, we got smart and realized that a hair dryer set to it’s highest setting did the same thing – without waiting for water to heat up or getting all wet.

Now – whenever she gets poison ivy (still 6+ times a year, even though she knows what it looks like!) the hair dryer goes on. It removes the itch for at least 5-6 hours. Enough to make it through the night and most of the day. The skin still becomes red. But it doesn’t swell, break, or ooze. We find that it still takes the full 2 weeks to clear, but without infection or fever.

Which brings us back to bee stings. The hair dryer (or hot water) can also neutralize the histamine produced from a bee sting. Or a deer fly, mosquito, horse fly, or buffalo gnat bite. We have them all in Minnesota (and lots of poison ivy.) Heat does the trick.

Again, if you are in a life threatening situation – get the benadryl, epi-pen, or get to the ER. But it may be worth a try to bring down the itch and swelling along the way. It’s free – assuming you already own a hair dryer or have access to the hot water tap.

What about other bees? Are all bees honey bees?

The above tricks should work for all bee stings – even wasp, hornets, yellow jackets, and bumble bees (they do sting, just not aggressively.) But not all bees are honey bees. There are over 200 different bees in North America. Take some time and watch the flowers in your yard, you’ll most likely see 3 or 4 different varities. It’s interesting stuff.

Have another trick or home remedy? Have a foolproof way to keep deer fly from biting? We are all ears! Leave us a comment.

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