Why Do Bee Stings Hurt So Bad?

A honeybee collecting nectar/pollen from a flower.
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

A mosquito bite? That's child's play. Spider bite? No problem. But a bee sting - heck, does it ever hurt!

About 2 million people in the U.S. are allergic to the venom of stinging insects, according to WebMD, and even those who aren't allergic can be afraid because of the acute pain caused by those fuzzy little critters.

Redness, swelling and a dull ache are the hallmarks of a bee sting, after the initial sharp blast of pain at the time of incident, of course.

The hurt inflicted by a bee is two-pronged.

First, when bees sting they release a chemical called melittin into their victim. This venom immediately triggers pain receptors, causing a burning sensation. Second, because a bee's stinger is in fact barbed like a jagged sword, when it penetrates the victim's skin it actually dislodges from the bee, remaining there. The longer the stinger stays in the skin, the more venom is released, continuing its toxic assault for up to a minute.

As long as you're not allergic to bee venom, your immune system will react to the sting by sending fluids there to flush out the melittin, causing swelling and redness. The pain may last several days, but can be soothed with a cold compress or an antihistamine.

Like you, dogs and cats suffer pain from bee stings, too.

Heather Whipps
Heather Whipps writes about history, anthropology and health for Live Science. She received her Diploma of College Studies in Social Sciences from John Abbott College and a Bachelor of Arts in Anthropology from McGill University, both in Quebec. She has hiked with mountain gorillas in Rwanda, and is an avid athlete and watcher of sports, particularly her favorite ice hockey team, the Montreal Canadiens. Oh yeah, she hates papaya.