Bee and wasp stings

Bee and wasp stings can be very unpleasant for the majority of us, and if you are stung you will experience some pain and perhaps some temporary swelling (often referred to as a weal).

However it is important to know that around one third of the UK population are ‘hypersensitive’ or allergic to bee and wasp stings and that one sting can lead to a severe, life threatening reaction called anaphylaxis in some people.

An anaphylactic shock, or anaphylaxis, is a medical emergency and help should be sought immediately from a qualified medical professional. Symptoms of anaphylaxis include (but are not exclusively); itchy skin, swollen hands, feet and face, feeling faint, breathing difficulties, collapse/fainting and unconsciousness. An anaphylactic shock needs to be treated immediately, usually with an injection of adrenaline. It is therefore important for those people who are likely to have a severe reaction to carry an injection of adrenaline (such as an EpiPen or Anapen) around with them. Adrenaline pens are available on prescription and your GP or nurse can show you how to use it.

If you believe you or a family member might be allergic to a wasp or bee sting, or is developing an allergy, it is advisable to seek advice from a qualified healthcare professional such as your GP.

Types of allergic reaction to Bee and Wasp Stings

Allergic reactions to bee and wasp stings can develop anywhere on the body. They may not always cause anaphylaxis but may result in non-life-threatening reactions, such as urticaria/hives (raised itchy skin), swelling, nausea (feeling sick), vomiting (being sick), stomach pain, and headaches. However life-threatening reactions as described above, require immediate medical care and medical help should be sought straightaway. Symptoms can begin immediately following the sting or up to 30 minutes later and might last for hours.

If you are at all concerned about a potential allergy to bee and/or wasp stings visit your GP or other qualified healthcare professional with whom you will be able to discuss your diagnosis and provide some practical advice

I have an allergy - how can I avoid being stung?

There are several things you can do to help prevent a wasp or bee sting. The most important is to keep covered if you are outdoors by wearing long sleeves and trousers which are quite close to the skin (not baggy). This will help prevent bees/wasps coming into contact with your skin. Wearing insect repellent may also be useful. There are a wide range of insect repellents available from your pharmacy or local supermarket.

If you do come into contact with bees or wasps remember to remain calm – avoid moving too quickly, swatting or waving your arms about as this may agitate the bee or wasp.

Sources used in writing this article are available on request.

Information contained in this Articles page has been written by talkhealth based on available medical evidence. Our evidence-based articles are certified by the Information Standard and our sources are available on request. The content is not, though, written by medical professionals and should never be considered a substitute for medical advice. You should always seek medical advice before changing your treatment routine. talkhealth does not endorse any specific products, brands, or treatments.

Information written by the talkhealth team

Last revised: 26 May 2016

Next review: 26 May 2018