(This was adapted from an answer on Quora. See the original post here)
As a commercial beekeeper, I've had more than enough stings to say that the level of pain has a lot to do with where I am stung, the amount of stings I get (over the course of the year), and the duration of time the sting remains in my skin. In general it feels like a hot needle is jabbed into me, along with the feeling of being punched, followed by soreness and sometimes followed by itchiness not unlike a mosquito bite. The pain can be instantaneous or slowly building up to a crescendo of throbbing agony.
Queen bee sting, unbarbed. Worker bees have barbed stings that remain in the skin while a venom sac continues to deliver the full venom payload if it isn't removed.
Location of sting
The most painful stings I've ever had were in the temple, under my fingernails, and in the ear. Fingertip stings are also particularly painful. Unsurprisingly stings to the genitals, toes, and tongue are said to be very painful though I have yet to have the pleasure of those stings (yet).
The least painful stings I've received, while they still hurt, were in my forearms, shoulders, and back. Ironically, stings to my lower back are somewhat nice IMO, as they help with my back pain.
Edit:I am not condoning or advocating treating body aches with self administered bee stings, I am merely sharing my experience with bee stings. While the average adult can survive at least 1000 honey bee stings, it's still potentially dangerous. If you would like to explore the idea of treating pain with bee venom therapy, consult a licensed apitherapy professional.
A bee has stung my wrist. The sting remains lodged in my skin along with the venom gland, while the bee flies off. It will not survive since part of its digestive system is torn out.
Frequency of stings over time
Before I became a beekeeper I had only been stung a few times in my life. The first few stings I got as a beekeeper were painful and memorable. In fact, my body got somewhat swollen and I broke out in hives (I chuckle every time I say that, as I had literally just set up my bee hives). Jumping ahead a few years and I was working for a commercial beekeeper. Being stung became a regular occurrence. Since then, stings don't bother me as much. They still hurt, but I get over it quicker. Stings also cause less, more localized, swelling.
I have two children, three and six years old at the time of this writing. For them, bee stings are traumatic. I think the psychological aspect of bee stings is not something to take lightly, and this is exemplified by stung children.
Part of a beekeeper’s job is to know what gets the bees to sting, and to not do that.
How long the sting remains embedded
Honey bees, unlike most other bees and wasps, have barbed stings that remain embedded in the skin after the bee flies off. This kills the bee, but allows the sting the potential to deliver the full payload of venom. This way the bee can still accomplish the goal of deterring a predator even when she is brushed off or smashed. The venom sac continues to pump venom for around two minutes, while the two-part barbed sting digs itself deeper into the wound.
Considering the above, it is wise to remove the sting with haste. The best technique is to scrape the sting out with a finger nail. Never try to grab ahold of it by pinching as you will likely squeeze the venom sac and inject yourself with the venom. Instead try to scrape the entire sting out opposite the direction it went in, and if a piece of the sting breaks off use fine tweezers to remove it.
Edit: In addition to removing the sting, applying ice to the sting site as quickly as possible will help reduce swelling and pain. Anti inflammatory drugs (i.e. ibuprofen) are also useful. If you like herbal remedies, apply a poultice (mashed up leaves) of plantain (Plantago spp.) overnight. There are probably other herbs that you could use, consult a knowledgeable guide for more information.