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

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

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.

Bee's use stingers to protect their host hive when it is attacked.
Bee's use stingers to protect their host hive when it is attacked.

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.

A severe allergy to bee stings may lead to throat swelling and difficulty breathing.
A severe allergy to bee stings may lead to throat swelling and difficulty breathing.

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.

EpiPens are used in the treatment of severe allergic reactions.
EpiPens are used in the treatment of severe allergic reactions.

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.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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    • Bee's use stingers to protect their host hive when it is attacked.
      Bee's use stingers to protect their host hive when it is attacked.
    • A severe allergy to bee stings may lead to throat swelling and difficulty breathing.
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      A severe allergy to bee stings may lead to throat swelling and difficulty breathing.
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      EpiPens are used in the treatment of severe allergic reactions.
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      Signs of an allergic reaction to a bee sting may include hives.