What Are the Signs of an Allergic Reaction to a Bee Sting?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Shereen Skola
  • Images By: n/a, Marilyn Barbone, Laurent Hamels, Greg Friese
  • Last Modified Date: 15 March 2019
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An allergic reaction to a bee sting can cause localized swelling and redness in mild cases, or a more serious condition called anaphylaxis, where patients have difficulty breathing and experience significant complications. Patients who notice signs of an allergy after being stung can discuss it with a doctor to determine if treatments are available or recommended. In the case of anaphylaxis, the patient may need immediate medical treatment to survive, and could be at risk of future incidents as well.

Bee stings can be unpleasant for everyone, but for approximately 10% of the population, they can cause what is known as a large local allergic reaction. The area around the sting can become extremely puffy and tender, with localized redness. This type of allergic reaction to a bee sting can cause discomfort, but is not life threatening. Patients who are not sure about whether a bee sting reaction is normal or evidence of a large local reaction can ask for a medical evaluation.

In an even smaller percentage of the population, a systemic reaction can occur after a bee sting. These patients can develop hives and other skin problems across their bodies, along with severe swelling of the mouth and throat. The airways can close, causing difficulty breathing, and the pulse may become fast and shallow. Some patients lose consciousness, while others may experience nausea and dizziness.


This allergic reaction to a bee sting is very serious. If the airways close entirely, the patient can die as a result of oxygen deprivation. To prevent future episodes of anaphylaxis, a doctor may recommend immunotherapy to decrease the intensity of reactions in the future. In addition, the patient may need to carry epinephrine for injection. Patients can quickly take the medication after a sting to keep the airways open long enough for medical support to arrive.

Not everyone who experiences anaphylaxis will develop it again with a second sting. It can be hard to predict whether an allergic reaction to a bee sting will recur. For this reason, a doctor may err on the side of caution when it comes to handling such patients. Treating them as though they are at risk of serious medical complications can cover all eventualities. People who know they may develop anaphylaxis may want to make friends, coworkers, and teachers aware so they know how to give first aid and get help in the event of a sting.



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