Bee venom / Allergy

Venus and Eros, A. Dürer, 1514
Venus and Eros, A. Dürer, 1514

The bee sting, with its bee venom, causes pain, but has many biological and beneficial effects.

Bees produce venom in their venom glands. New born bees do not sting. Venom synthesis in bees begins after two or three days, while the maximum production rate is reached when they are two to three weeks old. Older bees produce less venom. 

Reactions to bee stings

The bee stings its enemies in a “selfless” way: if it is a mammal with elastic skin the sting remains stuck in the skin, together with a part of bee’s body, and the bee dies in 2-3 days.

The most outstanding biological effect of bee venom is the painful inflammation.

What should be done after a bee sting? Normally, a strong swelling is caused at the point of stinging. This swelling can be managed with local measures (s. box «1st help after a bee sting »).

Swelling after a bee sting
Swelling after a bee sting

A life threatening toxic reaction can occur after more than 50 stings (for children) and more than 100-500 for grown-ups. In this case, the patients should be hospitalised.

Stings in the area of the eyes or at the temple are always dangerous because of the strong pain and swelling. They require an immediate medical help. The eye should be rinsed with cold water until the pain eases.

Stings on the tongue or within the pharynx are especially dangerous. Due to the rapid swelling of the mucous membrane there is an acute life threat by suffocation. Emergency medical has to be called immediately. Until the arrival of medical help the patient should suck a piece of ice or consume ice-cold drinks to prevent the swelling from spreading out.

First aid after a bee sting

Removal of sting: When a human is stung by a bee, the sting with the sting apparatus remains stuck in the skin. First the sting should be removed. For that purpose it should be pushed away from the side with the finger nail. Never try to remove the sting by squeezing it with both fingers: this will empty the bee venom into the tissue.

Cooling: Afterwards the stung area should be cooled by means of cold compress with vinegar water (1 part of vinegar and 2 parts of water), ice cubes, cold spray or alcohol. Also, application of sliced onion or propolis tincture can help. Apply an anti-allergic gel if available.

Doctor’s visit: If the swelling and the pains increase and/or if a red strip under the skin persists one day after the sting, a doctor should be consulted. Normally, these troubles cease 1-3 days after the sting.

Bee stings and bee venom allergy

Bee stings are especially dangerous for allergic people. About 5 % of the Swiss population are allergic to bees or other insects such as wasps and hornets.

Emergency aid for persons allergic to bee venom

  • Take prescribed tablets immediately after bee sting, by

  • Prepare an adrenaline ampoule (e.g. Epipen), if general reactions such as redness, swelling, shivering., vomiting, nausea, shortage of breath arise, and apply it immediately (intramuscularly or subcutaneosly)

  • Call an emergency doctor after the slightest symptoms of general reaction, to avoid complications, which can, in the worst case, be lethal.

  • Lay the shock patient, warmly covered, on a flat surface. In the case of a heart- or breath stop, a moth to mouth respiration and a heart massage should be performed by a trained person until the arrival of the emergency doctor, who will perform all other necessary measures. 


Persons with a bee venom allergy can be desensitised. The success of desensitisation against bee venom is about 80 %, that against wasp venom is approx. 95 %. Three to five years are needed for the a safe and durable desensitisation. Desensitisation is absolutely recommended. Compared to other bee venom allergic persons beekeepers have a better desensitisation success. Allergic persons of older age are especially endangered by bee stings and should be desensitised by all means.

Alles über das Bienengift (German (PDF, 131 kB, 14.09.2016) and Italian (PDF, 133 kB, 14.09.2016)) Everything about bee venom: Production, composition, effects, allergy
S. Bogdanov (2000)

For further informations about allergy: