What's normal for a bee sting?
July 18, 2009 6:24 PM   Subscribe

How much swelling is normal after a bee sting? And is a lot of swelling indicative of anything troublesome?

I was stung by a bee on the top of my foot yesterday, near my big toe. It's been gradually swelling and now the whole front half of my foot is swollen, painful and itchy, and it hurts to stand or walk. I had periodic chills after getting stung but they disappeared by yesterday evening.

Is this within the range of "normal" reactions to a bee sting? Some googling turns up advice to see a doctor if the swelling is bigger than several inches, but then elsewhere folks say it's not a big deal, if you don't have hives, a fever, or trouble breathing.

The pain is a bitch but I can deal. What concerns me is that my mother had a deathly bee allergy and once almost died while she was mowing the lawn, and I wander if this is a harbinger of more serious allergic responses in the future. Or am I just being paranoid?

I really would like to avoid the doctor, as I have no insurance and no money. Like, I would have to borrow money to go to the local clinic before my next pay check, or else show up at the ER. And I'm not going to do that if all the doc is going to say is, "Yep, that's a bee sting, take some Benedryl."
posted by bookish to Health & Fitness (16 answers total)
Go to the health food store, whole foods, or possibly a good pharmacy. Get powdered bentonite clay (in the facial mask section) Mix powder. Apply.

My thought is this should suck out the poison, or maybe there is a stinger in there?

Elevate foot. See doctor if you need.

And yes - take an antihistamine!
posted by jbenben at 6:31 PM on July 18, 2009

Best answer: I used to keep bees. This sounds like you're in the "gee, I have a bad reaction to bee stings" range, but no where near the "I need to carry an epipen" stage.

Take some Benidryl (The real stuff. Diphenhydramine. You may have to get it from the pharmacist depending where you live. Or from your doctor in some countries.)

I'm roughly as allergic as you seem to be to bee stings, and getting stung on the foot is one of the more annoying places since there's not a lot of spare room to swell up. If it was yesterday, the ship has already sailed on pulling poison from the wound. If it happens again, scrape the stinger out (Don't squeeze it, it'll push more venom in).

I would apply a home remedy of a paste made from 1 part water, 1 part crushed Benidryl and 1 part meat tenderizer. I have not idea if it helps, but I always felt it did and was very soothing. Absolutely ice it though. It will cut down the swelling and ease the discomfort.

See your doctor if you have any symptoms beyond discomfort around the area of the sting.
posted by Ookseer at 6:52 PM on July 18, 2009 [2 favorites]

I managed to have a bee hit me in the neck just above my leather jacket three weeks ago when I was riding the Harley... Bee slide down inside my jacket, bit me about five inches above my bellybutton... (60 miles an hour...it's amazing how fast you can stop a bike and pull over...) I still have a three inch red spot on my stomach...looks like a target! It itched for two weeks... If you're not having trouble breathing, you'll survive.. antihistamine is good advice..

Aloe worked for me to help with the itch...
posted by HuronBob at 6:55 PM on July 18, 2009

I was stung by a bee on the arm earlier this week. It swelled up about eight inches around and was extremely painful and itchy, so I went to the local walk-in clinic. They gave me a shot of steroids and more to take the following days, and told me to put hydrocotisone cream on it. It has now been six days since the sting and while most of the swelling and itch are gone, there still is a red mark about three inches around. So it was pretty bad even with the treatment; not sure how it would still be without the help. YMMV.
posted by tamitang at 7:11 PM on July 18, 2009

The rule of thumb for bee stings is that if you are asking about them on askmetafilter, things are all right.
posted by zach4000 at 8:35 PM on July 18, 2009

From what I've ever ready or head about, if you were going to have a bad reaction to a bee sting, all other things aside if it was going to be bad it would have already been bad; i.e. you would have noticed yourself not breathing. I've never heard of anyone have a reaction from a bee sting alone days after the event.
posted by ZaneJ. at 9:18 PM on July 18, 2009

You are allergic, at least more than a normal person. When I was stung on the foot at age 5, my entire leg swelled up. After that, my parents had me put on injections to build up my immunity.

By the time I stopped in high school, a bee sting would give me a silver dollar sized welt, whereas someone like my father would only get a quarter sized mark.

Take some antihistamine, and similar to Ookseer, my mother would make a poultice with meat tenderizer when someone in our house would get stung, though I think to be effective it should be applied soon after the sting.
posted by fings at 9:19 PM on July 18, 2009

Bee stings can also get infected. It happened to me once. I think if you're still within a day or two of the sting, its probably just normal swelling, but if it continues and gets hot to touch and hard you might consider getting it checked out by your doctor. I had to take a course of antibiotics to clear it up.
posted by kms at 11:07 PM on July 18, 2009

My daughter has an abnormal allergy to mosquito bites and used to have to be on a course of a steroid cream for the swelling after a bite. Benadryl cream also helped for the itching.
posted by cooker girl at 3:01 AM on July 19, 2009

Response by poster: Awesome, sounds like I don't really have any cause for alarm. I will take that Benedryl, ice the swelling, and get over it. Thank you for the swift responses, everybody.
posted by bookish at 3:30 AM on July 19, 2009

Yesterday? :) You'll be right sweetheart.

Was this your first ever bee sting? (That's more a rhetorical question because you don't sound very 'allergic' either way.)
Did you remove the sting correctly? (Because your sore, swollen foot suggests otherwise... )

My guess is, you've crushed the sting and pumped yourself full of poison. (Or the sting was left in for a bit? Maybe both?) Which absolutely - will make it swell up and hurt like a bitch.

Learn how to remove a bee sting. If you just flick them out it'll save you a lot of unnecessary pain. (Which goes double of you're allergic.)
Make sure there's no bits of sting left in there still and ice it.

More anecdotal data points??
-I've been horribly allergic to bees but do not get/ never got 'hives'.
(I've had reactions to different types of stuff before too but never any hives. Maybe I'm not the 'hivey' type??)

Anyway I get cold and clammy and my skin gets this attractive all over red/white splotches sort of pattern to it. And of course yes, there's that whole breathing thing... (That's the part that gets you, so you'll probably find that aspect typical of most, if not all people having a severe allergic reaction??) But yeah, I wouldn't get too hung up on the hives.

-My reaction was also worsening with every sting. (Which occurred at least once a year). It went from just taking an antihistamine to heading to the nearest ER. There were these few stings in a short amount of time and from that point on it just snowballed with every one after that.

-Surprisingly (or not actually??) my first sting in many many years was pretty mild. I felt/looked ok and afterwards I would've felt a bit silly about it, except for the angry red streaks making their way up my inner ankle. (And not one hive to be seen.)
...Still allergic. Intermuscular injection with big-fuck-off-horse needle no longer manditory. Good to know I guess? ...fuck bees
posted by mu~ha~ha~ha~har at 5:08 AM on July 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

It is possible for an allergic response like this to get worse as time goes on. My father is quite allergic to bees and wasps -- it's not ever reached Epi-Pen dangerous, but with each passing sting the welts get bigger and last longer. So you're pretty clearly fine from this sting, and not in obvious immediate danger from your next potential sting, but I'd definitely pay attention to the magnitude of your reaction to this one and keep it in mind if you get stung again. If it's worse next time, then you might want to talk to a doctor about the allergy.
posted by katemonster at 9:05 AM on July 19, 2009

Bee stings can really swell, and it depends on the part of the body too. The allergy to stings is evident on the second sting, not the first, and that's when breathing is often difficult.
posted by Brian B. at 9:49 AM on July 19, 2009

Seconding katemonster. I started out like a normal person, where a sting would give me a red dot inside a white bump inside a quarter-sized red mark. Then next time the red was silver-dollar sized. Next time I had a lot of swelling. Then the next time, I got stung on the ankle and my entire calf and foot ballooned to twice their normal size and I was unable to walk for three days. At that point I went to the doctor, who told me that I was developing an allergy and that next time I could have a systemic reaction, and he prescriped an Epi-Pen. So, watch out, because this kind of thing can be progressive.
posted by HotToddy at 10:52 AM on July 19, 2009

As a counterpoint to the "bee stings will eventually kill you": As I worked with bees my reaction to stings steadily decreased. The last time I got stung the welt was probably 2 inches across (vs swelling my whole foot/forearm, whatever). I worked with a beekeeper who, after keeping bees for decades has such a mild reaction that he didn't even wear gloves or tuck in his pant legs. A sting would leave a welt not much different from a flea bite.
posted by Ookseer at 11:26 AM on July 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

I had a reaction that bad to a beesting when I was ten -- it stung me on the lip one afternoon, and the bump from the sting looked like it was going down that night, but the next morning my lip and the left side of my face had swelled out about twice their size. We did go the doctor, but all she did was prescribe me some Benadryl and that was that.

I don't think that you're about to go into ancephelactic shock, but it is worth a trip to the doctor to see if, at the very least, they could prescribe something that could bring the swelling down faster. Going forward: do what I did; I don't carry an epi-pen or anything, but I also try somewhat harder to avoid bees.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:09 PM on July 19, 2009

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