Bee stings can be an extremely traumatizing experience, especially if you have never gotten a bee sting before. However, a major concern for most when they realize that they have gotten stung is whether or not they will develop an allergic reaction from their fellow yellow and black-striped foe. For most people, bee stings generally only cause acute but temporary pain, while others who are allergic to it may develop mild to severe symptoms; it may even be fatal if they develop anaphylaxis in extreme cases. If you are new to bee stings and are worried about it, we’re going to delve into the causes, symptoms, and treatment of bee sting allergies, as well as how to reduce your chances of getting stung during summer, so be sure to read on!
How common are bee sting allergies?
Typically, about 5 to 7.5 percent of people who get a bee sting will develop a severe allergic reaction to insect stings, while beekeepers have a higher chance at 32 percent. Many people who have an allergic reaction will only develop mild to moderate allergic reactions, categorized by redness and swelling. However, a smaller number of people may have severe reactions, requiring immediate medical assistance and facing a high risk of dying, though this is only in very rare cases.
The venom found in honeybees, paper wasps and yellow jackets typically cause the most severe allergic reactions, while bees, wasps and fire ants generally cause systematic allergic reactions that may spread all over the body; including the skin and even your respiratory system.
Causes of an allergic reaction
When you get stung by a bee, the sharp stinger remains in the skin and it may release venom up to a minute after the sting. Because of its protein content, the bee venom affects the immune system and skin cells, causing pain and swelling around the area, regardless of an allergic reaction or not. However, for individuals who are allergic, the venom causes an even more severe reaction on the immune system, resulting in it producing antibodies called Immunoglobulin E (IgE). Even though IgE typically safeguards the body against parasites and viruses, the IgE emitted by the sting causes a dangerous immune response, like hives, respiratory problems and swelling the next time a person gets stung. Therefore, it is possible for an individual to only develop an allergic reaction the second time they get stung.
Am I allergic?
Allergic reactions range from mild to severe reactions. For the milder cases, the symptoms usually occur around the area of the sting while in severe cases, the reaction may impact the rest of the body.
For mild reactions, they usually occur only at the site of the sting, and symptoms include sharp, burning pain, raised, red skin around the area and mild swelling. For these cases, medical assistance is usually not required.
For moderate allergic reactions, the venom reacts on a larger scale on the body, called a large local reaction (LLR). In these cases, symptoms may take about a week to completely heal and disappear. Symptoms include severe redness around the sting and moderate swelling which could increase to a diameter of 10cm or more over one or two days. For individuals who experience an LLR, there is a 5 to 10 percent chance that they will develop a systemic reaction to any future stings.
Certain individuals may develop a severe allergic reaction to the bee sting, which may lead to a life-threatening reaction called anaphylaxis. In such cases, immediate medical attention is required, as it could result in death if the individual is not treated soon. Symptoms occur rapidly, such as itchy, red hives, pale or flushed skin, swollen tongue or throat, abdominal pain, heavy and difficult breathing, dizziness, nausea and vomiting, a weak and rapid pulse, as well as a loss of consciousness.
Treatment for each bee sting allergy varies depending on the severity of the reaction.
1. Mild to moderate reaction
The stinger should be removed immediately after a bee sting to prevent the amount of venom being released into the skin. Using a pair of scissors, gently pull out the stinger, while avoiding the venom sack. These reactions usually do not require professional medical assistance, and home remedies can be used for effective treatment. Put a cold compress onto the area and apply steroid ointment to reduce the inflammation. Antihistamines can also be taken simultaneously to further reduce the swelling and itchiness. Symptoms typically die down after a few days.
2. Severe reaction
Individuals suffering from a severe reaction should seek medical assistance immediately, and usually require a shot of epinephrine to reduce the severity and symptoms. For individuals who have trouble breathing, doctors will administer oxygen and intravenous fluids. On the other hand, individuals who have experienced a severe allergic reaction to stings before and carry around an epinephrine injection device (EpiPen) should administer it to themselves immediately so that the symptoms will subside temporarily.
After this, they should still be taken to the emergency room immediately as the epinephrine alone will not curb the allergic reaction as it only brings about temporary relief. In rare cases, anaphylaxis can trigger a cardiac arrest within 5 to 10 minutes of the sting.
Preventing bee sting allergies
Individuals who are aware that they are allergic to bee stings should take extra precautions to prevent another bee sting in the future. When outdoors, avoid walking in shoes that expose a part of your feet, ensure that you wear clothes that cover your arms and legs, and avoid wearing brightly colored or floral print clothing. Strong perfumes can also attract bees, hence, avoid wearing them if possible. When you are eating or drinking outdoors, always be on a lookout for bees that may land on your food.
If you are in close proximity to bees, do not swat them away as they may resort to stinging you in an act of defense, and moving away calmly and slowly is recommended. Remaining calm when a bee lands on you will also prohibit any sudden stings, and they should fly away in seconds. Bee or wasp hives near your home should also be disposed of by your local pest control expert and should never be removed by yourself.
Always be on a lookout for bees nearby and take the necessary steps to prevent a possible sting. Individuals who are aware that they are allergic to bee stings should always be extra careful and should seek advice from a medical professional on proper ways to do so to lower their chances. Bee stings typically go away after a couple of days if there are no signs of severe symptoms, but when in doubt, always visit a doctor to receive professional advice.