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Care of an Insect Sting

Table of Contents


Topic Overview

Insect stings often cause minor swelling, redness, pain, and itching. Most bites and stings will heal on their own without a visit to a doctor. There are several things you can do to relieve pain and itching and prevent infection from a bite or sting.

After a sting

After you are stung, try to move away from the stinging insect. Bees will alert other bees, making them more likely to sting. Remain as calm and quiet as possible. Movement will increase the spread of venom in your bloodstream.

It is important to remove the stinger as quickly as possible after a sting. Even a delay of a second or two in removing the stinger is likely to increase the amount of venom you receive. In less than 20 seconds after a sting, 90% of the venom is injected into your body.

To quickly remove the stinger:

If you have been stung on the arm or leg, lower the limb at the time of the sting to slow the spread of venom. Hours later, if swelling is present, you can elevate the limb to help reduce swelling.

Relieving pain, itching, and swelling

Apply an ice pack to a bite or sting for 15 to 20 minutes once an hour for the first 6 hours. Always keep a cloth between your skin and the ice pack, and press firmly against all the curves of the affected area. Do not apply ice for longer than 15 to 20 minutes at a time, and do not fall asleep with the ice on your skin.

When not using ice, keep a cool, wet cloth on the bite or sting for up to 6 hours.

After the first 6 hours, if swelling is not present, try applying warmth to the site for comfort.

Try a nonprescription medicine for the relief of itching, redness, and swelling.

When using nonprescription medicines, be sure to follow all labels and instructions.


Credits for Care of an Insect Sting

Current as of: October 19, 2020

Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:
William H. Blahd Jr. MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine
Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine
Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
E. Gregory Thompson MD - Internal Medicine
H. Michael O'Connor MD - Emergency Medicine


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