Carpenter Bee Sting Reaction

carpenter bee image by Richard Seeney from

Carpenter bees look very similar to bumblebees, but have a shiny black abdomen instead of a hairy, black and yellow one. They burrow into wood to use as a nesting site, which can include wood in homes, making them a potential threat for humans.

The sting of a carpenter bee could potentially cause a life-threatening reaction called anaphylaxis. Reactions to bee stings vary by individual and the amount of venom administered. It is important to understand the possible reactions so you can get help immediately if necessary.

The Sting Process

Male carpenter bees are usually more aggressive toward humans than females, yet they are not equipped with stingers. Females are able to sting, but do not usually do so unless directly provoked, as they are not nearly aggressive as males. Once they sting, though, it can be quite painful.

Venom Chemical Make-up

Bee venom is quite complex compared to the venom of other insects, such as wasps. It includes a lot of protein, namely mellitin, which is thought to be responsible for allergic reactions, according to Thor Lehnert of Bioenvironmental Bee Laboratory. It also contains histamine and several enzymes responsible for the rest of the human reaction, including the swelling, spreading and pain of the sting.

Normal Reaction

In someone who is not allergic to bees, the reaction will most likely just be a localised swelling around the sting site. The amount of swelling will vary depending on who is stung and how much venom was injected. Some people, though not technically allergic, will be more sensitive to a sting than others. The swelling could be almost non-existent or take up a large portion of the affected area. There will also most likely be redness associated with the swelling.

Normal Treatment

Meat tenderizer, which has then enzyme Papain in it, will break down the proteins in the venom to relieve the sting effects quickly. Cortisone, which is an anti-inflammatory, will also provide relief to pain and swelling. For more severe reactions that are not anaphylactic, a dose of an antihistamine might be beneficial. An example of this type of reaction would be welts or hives all over the body, without losing the ability to breathe normally. Also, a cold compress at the sting site will help the pain.


Anaphylaxis is a life-threatening allergic reaction that results in the loss of your airway, making it impossible to breath fully. If this type of reaction continues, it could result in a complete loss of the airway, shock and possibly death. To become allergic to bee venom, you must have been exposed at least once before. The first exposure introduces the foreign venom to your body, and your body determines that it is dangerous. The next time the body is exposed, it attacks the venom with histamines and other chemicals, which causes the severe reaction. The length of time that this takes varies depending on the individual and the specific occurrence. You could react after an hour one time, and after only five minutes another time. Other symptoms besides loss of an airway include full body hives, itching and swelling.

Anaphylaxis Treatment

Epinephrine is the most effective and quickest treatment for an allergic reaction to bee stings. This usually comes in the form of an injection device called an Epi-pen. Many people who are severely allergic to bees carry an Epi-pen with them wherever they go, so they can administer it immediately if stung. If there is no epinephrine available, an antihistamine can be given as long as the allergic person can still swallow. This will work much slower, and it is still important to get that person to the hospital as quickly as possible.