Can Copper Pennies Treat Bee Stings?

bee on a person's finger

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There is a viral message claiming that taping a copper penny over a bee sting or hornet sting will provide overnight relief from redness and swelling. A penny for your bite!

Description: Folk remedy

Circulating Since: August 2006

Status: No scientific basis

Example: Email contributed by Tilbury, August 14, 2006:

Fw: Penny for your bite... True Story
Just wanted to share a bit of information for school.
A couple of weeks ago I was unfortunate enough to get stung by both a bee and hornet while working in the garden. My arm swelled up, so off to the doctor I went. The clinic gave me cream and an antihistimine. The next day the swelling was getting progressively worse, so I went to my regular doctor. I had an infected arm and needed an antibiotic. What was interesting is what Dr. Mike told me: the next time you get stung, put a penny on the bite for 15 minutes. I thought, wow next time (if there ever is one) I will try it.
Well that night, Suzy's niece got stung by two bees. When she came over to swim I looked at the bite and it had already started to swell. So off I went to get my money and taped a penny to her arm for 15 minutes. The next morning, there was no sign of a bite. Wow, were we surprised. Her niece, we decided, just wasn't allergic to the sting.
Well, guess what happened again on Saturday night. I was helping Suzy dead head her flowers and I got bit again two times by a hornet on my left hand. I thought here I go again, having to go to the doctor for yet another antibotic. Well, I promptly went into the house, again got my money out, and taped two pennies to my bites and then sat and sulked for 15 minutes. The penny took the string out of the bite immediately. I still wasn't sure what was going to happen. In the meantime, the hornets were attacking Suzy and she got bit on the thumb. Again, the penny. The next morning, I would only see the spot where he had got me. No redness, no swelling. I went over the see Suzy and hers was the same. Couldn't even tell where she got bit. Then Suzy got stung again on Monday night on her back while cutting the grass. This penny thing is going to make us money at school. Again, it worked.
Just wanted to share the marvelous information in case any of you are experiencing the same problem at home. We need to have a stock of pennies on hand at school.
Dr. Mike said somehow the copper in the penny counteracts the bite. I would never had believed it. But it definitely does work.

Analysis

Does putting a penny on a bee sting or insect bite really provide relief from pain, or is that just an old wives' tale? Unfortunately, there's no scientific proof either way. The use of coins as a topical remedy for insect bites and stings has never been clinically tested.

Is it possible that the copper content of a penny could somehow counteract the effects of a bee sting? Maybe, though it seems unlikely. There are medical studies touting the successful use of skin creams containing "copper peptide complexes"—mixtures of copper and amino acids—to accelerate the healing of wounds, but these carefully formulated ointments are a far cry from the random grimy penny. And unless it was minted before 1982, the typical U.S. penny in circulation today is just 2.5 percent copper. The rest is zinc.

Copper Pennies, Bee Stings, and Folk Medicine

We do find copper coins mentioned as a curative in traditional folk medicine sources, though it is rarely in the context of insect bites or stings. In western countries, the medicinal use of copper has generally been confined to the treatment of rheumatism ("Place a penny in the shoe or wear a copper bracelet around the wrist to relieve chronic pain") and warts ("Rub a copper penny over a wart 20 times and it will disappear"). The practice of rubbing copper coins on the skin, called "coining," is even more common in Asian folk medicine, which holds it to be helpful in treating fever, coughs, colds, and other mundane complaints.

For bee stings, topical home remedies of every conceivable kind have been tried and sworn by, including raw garlic, onion juice, chewing tobacco, wet tea bags, dill pickles, and even store-bought meat tenderizer. The latter supposedly works because it contains an enzyme called papain, which breaks down the toxins in insect venom.

Ironically, bee stings themselves—the very affliction we seek to cure—are believed to have curative powers by practitioners of Chinese folk medicine, who for 3,000 years have prescribed bee venom to relieve arthritis, back pain, and even liver disease. Bee sting therapy has also become popular of late in the United States as an alternative treatment for multiple sclerosis. According to proponents, bee venom contains melittin, an anti-inflammatory substance believed to be 100 times more potent than hydrocortisone. Please note, however, that no major clinical studies have yet been published to verify the treatment's effectiveness. Moreover, some people are allergic to bee stings and are at risk for a severe reaction or even death.

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