Bee Sting Allergies
About Bee Sting Allergies
Learn the dangers of bee sting allergies, symptoms, precautions, emergency plans for severe episodes, and the most effective treatments available.
Bees that cause serious allergic reactions fall into two categories: honeybees and bumblebees; and hornets, wasps, and yellow jackets. Honeybees and bumblebees sting only once and then die. When they sting, they leave their stinger in the person's skin, which releases venom into the person's body. The second group does not leave their stinger in the person's skin and therefore can sting multiple times, releasing venom in the person's flesh with each sting.
Stinging insects are very distinct and easily identifiable if you know what to look for. In the first group, bumblebees for instance, are large and fat with yellow and black stripes. Honeybees are smaller with rounded yellow or brownish bodies.
In the second group, we have the yellow jackets, hornets and wasps. They are narrow in the middle as if they have waists. Hornets can have yellow or white stripes and have white faces. Their nests can usually be found hanging from trees or under house eaves. Wasps are brown or black. Their nests can normally be found on or near a house but are known to hide in clothing, shoes, etc. They usually only sting if they are disturbed. Yellow jackets are thin, with yellow and black stripes. They are partial to sweets and can commonly be found around food and garbage cans. They also nest in the ground so they may be disturbed when doing gardening, mowing the lawn or playing outdoors.
Bee sting allergies are caused by a reaction to the venom the bee releases into the person’s flesh. It should be noted that the venom actually causes everyone to react negatively to the bee sting. A non-allergic reaction to a bee sting usually results in a small red bump at the location of the bee sting. This is caused by the poison and toxicity of the venom. For those that have a bee sting allergy, the reaction is more severe and is caused by different chemicals in the venom. A fact that everyone should be aware of is when an individual is allergic to one type of insect sting, they are most likely allergic to all stings from insects in that family. This is due to the similar toxicity of the venom within that family of insects.
An individual experiencing a bee sting allergy will first begin to feel itching around the eyes and mouth. This will then lead to coughing and the skin being flushed. For someone experiencing a mild allergic reaction, the symptoms may not develop any further. For others, they might experience swelling around the sting area (to the point where the entire limb may become swollen), hives, tightness in the chest, a swollen throat, nausea and vomiting, dizziness and shortness of breath. Some individuals may have a very progressive and fatal reaction where they lose consciousness and die within a period of less than thirty minutes. This is why it is very important for those who suffer from bee sting allergies to be adequately prepared before a severe event occurs.
It is important to note that before a allergic reaction is able to occur, sensitization (exposure to the allergen) needs to occur. Therefore, for someone who has a bee sting allergy, they would have needed to be stung at least one prior time in order to experience a allergic reaction. The time period between sensitization and an allergic reaction can be very long. For instance, if you were stung as a child of five years, sensitization to that particular family of insects can occur. Several years later, when you are a teenager, you may be stung by an insect within the same family and experience a full-blown allergic reaction.
The best way to obtain an accurate diagnosis is to bring the offending insect in with you to the doctor. Identifying the type of insect (and therefore the family it belongs to) will assist the doctor in identifying the venom responsible for the allergic reaction. If that’s not possible, remembering as much about the incident will help the doctor pinpoint the insect. Also, if the stinger is left in the flesh, the doctor will be able to make the diagnosis from that as they are very distinct from insect to insect. If the information you have provided to the doctor is not adequate to clearly identify the insect responsible for the allergic reaction, skin or blood tests can be performed to complete the diagnosis. Note that skin tests can only be performed at least six weeks after the stinging occurred as the body needs to replenish its supply of antibodies.
There are several things a person can do to relieve symptoms of bee sting allergy. First and foremost, if the stinger remains in the flesh, it must be scraped out with your fingernail as soon as possible. Tweezers are not recommended as they may inadvertently release more venom into the flesh. If an individual has a local reaction (affecting only a single area) to the bee sting, creating and applying a paste made out of meat tenderizer and water can minimize the pain and swelling.
With more severe reactions to bee stings, medications are recommended. Prescription corticosteroid cream can be used on the sting area to minimize swelling. Antihistamines are recommended for itching and inflammation. If there is a full out allergic reaction involving several symptoms such as hives, swelling of the throat, and loss of consciousness, the incident should be treated as an emergency and the individual should be taken to a doctor or hospital immediately. An epinephrine shot should be taken immediately to reverse the allergic reaction as quickly as possible. This is very important as it only takes minutes for a very severe bee sting allergy to result in death. In some cases, a tourniquet can be applied to minimize the spread of the poisonous venom through the body. In this treatment, it is important to remember to loosen the tourniquet every few minutes so that you do not cut off the blood supply completely to that part of the body.
Immunotherapy shots may also be recommended for individuals who suffer from bee sting reactions. These shots are used to build up a tolerance to the bee venom. For those individuals that have allergies to multiple types of venom, a mixed-venom allergy shot extract may be available.
With all bee venom reactions, mild or severe, it is important to keep the sting area clean to avoid infection. Soap and water can be used to keep the area clean but any blisters that may form as a result of the sting should not be broken.
Avoidance is the best preventative practice when suffering from bee sting allergies but, of course this is not always possible. Therefore, some helpful tips to minimize the possibility of receiving a bee sting include:
- Do not wear sandals or go barefoot
- Avoid eating outdoors
- Inspect an area outdoors before sitting
- Avoid garbage bins
- Cover up as much as possible when outdoors
- Avoid wearing perfume, cologne, or shiny jewelry
- Do not swat at insects as they fly close to you
Avoiding bee stings is not always possible and since bee sting allergies can result in severe allergic reactions, they should be taken very seriously. Allergic reactions should be reported to a physician so that proper analysis of the venom can performed and the most effective treatment can be prescribed. If an individual is susceptible to severe bee sting allergies, every precaution should be taken to avoid exposure to bee stings and an emergency treatment plan should be readily available. click here to learn more about treating severe bee sting allergies