Bee-venom hypersensitivity is becoming increasingly prevalent, and can result in serious or even life-threatening reactions.Unlike food allergens, it is difficult to avoid bee stings. Most reactions occur outside of the home, and therefore awareness and vigilance is of utmost importance.
What is Bee Venom Allergy?
The majority of people who are stung by a bee will have an irritating, painful local swelling that disappears within a few hours. If you are allergic to the venom, you might present with a more profound, longer lasting reaction, which can become worse on subsequent stings.
Is bee venom allergy serious?
YES! Reactions can be fatal.
So this is the scary truth….many people who are allergic will never know till they have been actually stung. It is therefore critical to be cautious and test yourself if you have had a particularly troublesome reaction, or are concerned.
How would I know if I am allergic when a bee stings me?
There are various grades of reactions that can occur, starting from a local, red swelling at the sting site, to the most severe forms of “anaphylaxis”, which can involve many different organ systems. The following signs indicate that you might be sensitized, or allergic
- a large red rash or swelling on your skin, which extends far beyond the actual sting,
- involvement of your entire limb
- hives or rashes
- swelling away from the site of the sting, for example swelling up of the face
- tightness in your chest
- tingling in your throat
- voice change or difficulty breathing
- severe abdominal pain or vomiting
- drowsiness or weakness (indicating drop in blood pressure)
What is the next step?
The next step is to visit your local doctor, or preferably a Certified Allergist, or at least someone with expertise in Allergy (you can find a list of practitioners on our website). They will take a thorough history, and test your antibody levels to bees. Based on the severity of your reaction, your test results, and your risks for getting more stings, they might decide to provide you with an emergency pack of medicines…
These might include:
- a quick acting antihistamine for the not so serious reactions
- an adrenaline ‘shot’ or “Epipen” for the serious reactions, which actually is a life saving device
- a written action plan which is handy at schools and work places, where a colleague or third party might have to step in to assist
- a medical alert bracelet indicating the allergy
What measures can be taken at schools?
Children in schools are vulnerable to bee stings, especially on the sports field.
Some handy tips to consider
- Avoiding brightly colored and floral print clothing will help keep bees away.
- Avoid fragrances or cosmetics with floral scents.
- Always be careful with food and sweet drinks such as soda. Bees will often fly into the can and sting the drinker when he or she takes a sip.
- If you are going into a field where there will likely be bees, wear long pants and shoes that cover your whole foot.
- If there are bees around or on you, don’t run. Standing still will keep the bees calm and, most likely, they will fly away without causing harm.
- If stung by a bee, remove the sting by scraping and not squeezing it. Apply ice to the site of the sting immediately. Watch for reactions and act according to the severity of the reaction.
Finally, why don’t you share your stories with us! For anybody who has had an allergic reaction, or is living with the allergy….tell us what it’s been like for you to help other readers who can identify with your experiences.
As an Allergist, I have a personal story to share…
I have a close friend who lost a sibling to a severe reaction to a bee sting. They were young students at a university in South Africa. Upon arriving home one day, a bee entered the room and stung him on his bare head. He had a massive allergic reaction involving laryngeal oedema (closing up of his airway), which resulted in death.