Every year, millions of people are stung by bees and other insects. Even if a person is not allergic — making the event a frightening and potentially life-threatening issue — the experience is painful and irritating. Home remedies for bee stings are not intended for people who are allergic but if the sting simply becomes inflamed and tender, without more serious symptoms, these suggestions could minimize pain and promote healing.
Remove the Stinger
Before doing anything else, it is important to remove the stinger from the wound as quickly as possible. While some stinging insects can sting multiple times, honey bees die after stinging, so if you are stung by a bee, the stinger will typically break off and remain in your skin. Be careful not to squeeze or twist the stinger; this can inject more toxins and increase pain. Instead, use tweezers or your fingernails to pull the stinger out gently. Do not attempt to treat the sting before removing the stinger. If it breaks off under the skin, you should see your physician.
The venom within the bee’s stinger is very acidic, which is why bee stings are so painful. Applying baking soda can neutralize the acidity of the sting, reducing pain and inflammation. After removing the stinger and cleaning the area, apply a baking soda paste of equal parts water and soda to the wound and allow it to dry. The pain should quickly ease. After 20 minutes, rinse the baking soda from the sting site with cold water.
When swelling and pain is involved, cold compresses are typically an effective remedy. While they will not impact toxins, the underlying cause of pain in bee stings, they are a quick and easy way to reduce inflammation. They also decrease blood flow, which can help keep the toxin from traveling further through the body. Before applying ice, carefully clean the area with antibacterial soap and warm water. While a sting may seem like a minor break in the skin, it can still become infected if not cared for properly.
Most people remember calamine lotion as the soothing cream applied to chickenpox or poison ivy rashes. It can also help calm the pain and itchiness caused by a bee sting. For maximum effectiveness, carefully cleanse the sting area before applying calamine to remove natural oils that repel topical treatments. Smooth a thin layer of calamine onto the sting site and cover with a bandage if necessary. If calamine lotion is not enough to ease itching, you could be experiencing a more serious allergic reaction and may need medical care.
Lavender or lavender oil can effectively reduce pain and itching from bee stings. Lavender’s soothing properties ease inflammation and calm localized reactions. It’s also believed to have antihistamine properties to help control itching. Apply a carrier oil and one drop of lavender essential oil to the sting, or press the flowers of the plant against the area. Remember that oils can irritate skin and should always be tested on unbroken skin first, to avoid further irritating the sting due to an unexpected topical reaction.
Another natural remedy for bee stings is witch hazel. This cleansing extract contains tannins and many other soothing compounds. Tannins act as astringents, helping prevent infection and eliminate pain and itching. After removing the stinger and cleaning the area, apply a small amount of witch hazel on a cotton swab to the sting site. Cover with a sterile bandage. After the pain and itching subside, remove the bandage and rinse the area with cool water.
Apple Cider Vinegar
Some people recommend apple cider vinegar to treat bee stings because it has antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. Most types of vinegar increase stinging sensations, as both the vinegar and bee venom are acidic. That’s why vinegar is usually recommended for hornet or wasp stings, which are alkaline. Apple cider vinegar is less acidic than white vinegar, so it is better for bee stings but is still considered a final option.
Toothpaste is an alkaline-based substance, like baking soda, that can help neutralize bee sting venom. Although the mint may initially sting, it will ultimately soothe pain and inflammation and reduce itchiness. First, clean the affected area, then apply a thin layer of toothpaste and cover with a bandage. Plain white toothpaste works best, especially something that contains baking soda or hydrogen peroxide. These compounds provide antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties that encourage healing. They also contain fewer dyes and other ingredients that can irritate stings.
One of the most old-fashioned remedies for strings is found in nature: mud. Of course, applying mud to a bee sting goes against everything previously mentioned about cleaning the affected area and avoiding infections. If you’re stung by a bee when out on a hike or away from first aid, mud can work in a pinch. If you have purified water on hand, use it to dampen a small amount of dirt and apply to the sting. The coolness will relieve the pain and swelling temporarily. As soon as sterilized options are available, clean the sting thoroughly.
Bee stings can cause itching regardless of whether a person has a significant allergic reaction. Antihistamines can help ease localized reactions. These over-the-counter allergy medications will reduce redness, swelling, and itching. While there are plenty of more natural choices, antihistamines work quickly and effectively. However, if you have difficulty breathing or swallowing after a bee sting, you need immediate medical care beyond OTC medicine and should see a doctor immediately.