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Honeybee Stings

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Honeybees foraging for nectar or pollen will rarely sting except when stepped on or roughly handled but they will actively seek out and sting if they think their hive is being threatened.

A bee’s stinger is a small & barbed and has a venom sack attached that can continue to pump venom into your system for 20 minutes after you have been stung. It also releases a hormone into the air that will make other bees in the area more aggressive and apt to sting also. So it is imperative to remove the stinger as quickly as possible. It is also important to get as quickly and as far away as possible & from the hive or swarm.

Alarm pheromones do not dissipate nor wash off quickly, so it is not advisable to enter water to avoid being stung, bees will wait & resume attacking as soon as the target leaves the water.

Female worker honeybees can sting a mammal or bird only once because the stinger is barbed so that it lodges in the victim’s skin, tearing loose from the bee’s abdomen & leading to their death in minutes.

Honeybees are the only insect with a barbed stinger. The stinger evolved originally for inter-bee combat between members of different hives. Barbs evolved later as an anti-mammal defense. A barbed stinger can still penetrate another bee’s exoskeleton and retract safely.

Male drone bees do not have stingers, since they are males & the stinger is a modified ovipositor.  The queen has a smooth stinger and can sting skin-bearing creatures multiple times but she does not leave the hive under normal conditions. Her stinger is not for defense of the hive; she only uses it for killing rival queens.

If you are stung in your garden it  will not alert other bees as their hive is not close

Bees, wasps, and hornets are the insect stings that most often trigger allergies.

Most people are not allergic to insect stings but may mistake a normal sting reaction for an allergic reaction. By knowing the difference, you can prevent unnecessary worry and visits to the doctor. Severity of an insect sting reaction varies from person to person.

There are three types of reactions — normal, localized, and allergic:

A normal reaction will result in pain, swelling, and redness around the sting site.

A large local reaction will result in swelling that extends beyond the sting site, maybe a whole arm would swell. Although looking alarming, it is not usually any more serious than a normal reaction.

Allergic reaction – This condition requires immediate medical attention.

Mild allergic reaction may cause one or more of the following symptoms at the site of the sting:

Pain. Redness, pimple-like spots, mild to moderate swelling, warmth at the sting site, itching.

Severe reaction (anaphylactic reaction) may cause one or more of the following symptoms:

Breathing difficulty, lumps that appear as a red, itchy rash and spread to areas beyond the sting, swelling of the face, throat, or mouth tissue, wheezing or difficulty swallowing, restlessness, anxiety, rapid pulse, dizziness or a sharp drop in blood pressure.

Severe allergic reactions are not that common but they can lead to shock, cardiac arrest, and unconsciousness in 10 minutes or less. The reaction can occur within minutes after a sting and can be fatal. Get emergency treatment as soon as possible.


Treatment of normal, localized, mild allergic reactions.

If stung on the hand, remove any rings from your fingers immediately and remove the stinger from your skin within 30 seconds to avoid receiving more venom.

Look for a raised red area on the skin of the victim then look carefully for a small black dot in the center – it will look rather like a tiny splinter. Gently scrape the sac and stinger out with a fingernail or a stiff-edged object like a credit card. Don’t squeeze the sac or pull the stinger – this will just release more venom into the skin.

If you are a by-stander, ask the victim if they have allergic reactions to bee stings. If so, find out if they have a bee sting or anaphylaxis kit. If they do, then follow the instructions on the kit and call an ambulance. If no kit is available, immediately call an ambulance. Don’t try to get the victim to the hospital yourself, unless you are within minutes of a hospital. Paramedics on an ambulance will be able to give medication immediately.

If the victim does not know if they are allergic to bee stings watch for allergic symptoms. Again if any of these symptoms occur, call the ambulance.

If the victim has no allergies or any signs of allergy, the sting can be treated to make it less painful. Wash the area gently with soap and water, if available. If you have a first aid kit you can use an alcohol swab to sterilize the sting area. Adding a bag full of ice to the area will reduce swelling.

Antihistamine creams and pills help to reduce swelling and itching but there are also some ‘home’ remedies. Try applying a paste of baking soda and water or smothering the area with strong toothpaste (not gel). Toothpaste works quickly to neutralise the acid. When the area starts itching again, rinse off toothpaste and re-apply.

The sting may be painful for a few hours & swelling and itching may persist for a week. Try not to scratch the area as this only increases the itching & swelling. If a reaction persists for over a week or covers an area greater than 3 or 4 inches, seek medical attention.

NB: Pinner & Ruislip Beekeepers’ Association cannot accept any responsibility arising from the advice in this article.

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