Pennies, Meat Tenderizer, and Other Curious Bee Sting Cures
One of the questions I get asked most frequently is "How many times have you been stung?". This question is a tough one because after a while you've been stung so many times that you just stop counting. If I had to answer this question based on frequency though, the answer would be simple, A LOT. We give bees a great deal of praise for their excellent work ethic, communication skills, and talent at making that sweet honey we all love so much. But one of their greatest skills, that frequently gets overlooked, is their uncanny ability to tell exactly when I have removed all protective clothing and swoop in for that last unexpected sting.
One thing that never changes no matter how many times you've been stung is that it hurts EVERY... SINGLE...TIME. The symptoms may start to decrease after you build up some immunity to the bee venom, but unfortunately that does nothing to dull the feeling of getting stabbed by a hot needle. My family has been keeping bees practically my entire life, so getting stung by bees was just part of growing up and I don't remember having many post-sting symptoms. But when I blissfully entered into the bee removal business after years of being away at school and other non-bee related jobs in young adulthood, the swelling and itching after a sting was almost worse than the sting itself.
So in an attempt to keep myself from going crazy and feeling like I had a constant case of itchy chicken pox, I tried pretty much every home remedy out there. Some are supposed to "cure" the sting, either by breaking down the toxins in the venom or suppressing the release of pain and itch causing agents in the blood. Other remedies were only supposed to "soothe" the sting by relieving symptoms. Some of them work better than others, but they are all pretty weird. The theory behind these is that hopefully you will have some of these things at home already and don't have to rush to the store in hopes of finding some magical ointment (which, if it exists I haven't found it yet) to cure the pain, itching, and swelling.
I will start with the worst and get to the best at the end. I feel like the bad ones are worth mentioning because they come up in almost every Google search for a home remedy for bee stings. It's as if they are waiting there for some desperate/gullible person in search of relief (such as myself). Because lets face it, nobody ever Googles that stuff until they've just been stung.
Tobacco - I don't know where this one came from, but I hear it a lot. The theory is that if you put tobacco from a cigarette or dip onto the sting the nicotine will neutralize the venom and -voila- you will be cured! FALSE. Maybe this works for some people (there were a lot on online testimonies of this working wonders) but it didn't work at all for me.
Honey - This one was my own remedy, it seemed like an obvious one since honey is recommended as a home remedy for burns and just about any other skin ailment. And honestly I was pulling for this one because wouldn't it be wonderfully ironic if a bee's sting could be healed by its own honey! No luck. But while the honey was on it did seem to alleviate the symptoms. Unfortunately, honey is not easy to keep on your skin without accidentally getting it everywhere so I was still left with swelling and itching for days after.
Vinegar & Baking Soda Paste - Due to the acid/base interaction of the vinegar and baking soda, the concoction fizzed like an Alka Seltzer on my arm. The symptoms took about 20 minutes to dull, but it seemed to make it feel much better. However, I put this one under "not bad" because the vinegar smell made me feel like a walking salad bar.
Meat Tenderizer - This one works surprisingly well. Meat tenderizer contains papain, an enzyme found in papaya, that supposedly breaks down the toxins in bee venom. I made a paste of meat tenderizer and water and applied it to the bee sting for about an hour. This greatly reduced the symptoms and the swelling the next day was definitely decreased.
Copper Penny - There is no scientific evidence that this works, but it has become my go-to method for relieving symptoms of bee stings. I resorted to this one after getting stung right between my eyes one day. I was ready to try anything after picturing how swollen my face would be the next day. I used a Band-Aid to secure a penny over the bee sting area for 15 minutes. When I took it off I noticed that the pain had pretty much completely gone away, and the best part was no swollen/itchy face the next morning! I have used it several times since then and get the same results each time. So I guess science doesn't know everything.
That pretty much sums up my list of home remedies. I warned you they would be pretty weird. But hey, desperate times call for desperate measures.
(I feel like I should put some sort of disclaimer here about severe allergic reactions. (Obviously) If you experience trouble breathing or swallowing, dizziness, or a sharp drop in blood pressure you should probably not waste your time hunting down meat tenderizer or trying to tape a penny to your face. Call 9-1-1!)