“Do you ever get stung?”, is a question I get asked a lot. Sometimes they say “Do they bite you?” But I’ll overlook that for the moment, it always makes me smile. How could I work with bees all the time and not get an occasional sting? I would say that on average I get 3 or 4 a day when I’m removing bee swarms or colonies. If I get less than a couple in a day I think I’m doing pretty well.
Many people say they’re allergic, to bee stings, although only a few are extremely allergic. Allergy symptoms include, but are not limited to, swelling of the neck or throat, trouble breathing, a rash or any other strange reaction away from the actual site of the puncture.
Over the years I have become less sensitive to getting stung, although it still hurts. Sometimes it swells a bit. I think it depends on how much venom the bee injects. If my wife asks if I’ve been stung today the answer is usually, “yes”. But if she asks where, I stop and think and I often can’t remember.
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The most times I ever got stung in one incident was a few years ago, collecting a swarm in San Diego. The swarm was about 20 feet up in a tree. I was perched on top of a ladder trying to shake the swarm into a cardboard box.
As I wobbled on the ladder I dislodged the swarm which dropped all over me. Unfortunately I was only wearing a short bee-suit which covered my top half, and short pants. I quickly climbed down the ladder as the bees stung my legs. I danced around, trying to look nonchalant since the house owner was watching.
The bees, of course, flew up and regrouped on the tree branch. I climbed the ladder again, reached up to the swarm, and dropped them all over me again! Again I slid down the ladder and did the bee dance, my own, not the famous bee waggle dance. Again the bees flew back to the branch.
I got them into the box on the third attempt, took them home and put them in a hive. Thy flew away the net day, and I was glad to see them go.
I think I got about 50 bee stings on my legs that day. It made me feel a little dizzy but, as far as I know, there were no lasting effects.
I’ve read since that if you get stung more than 10 times you should visit your doctor, more than 50 times go to the emergency room. I didn’t know that then, and I’m not planning on repeating that performance.
Why do bees sting? Workers usually only use this deterrent as a last resort. The barbed stinger is torn off and remains in the skin. Muscles continue to pump venom into the wound. To limit the amount of venom which is injected the best solution is not to try to pull it out, but to scrape the bee sting away with a fingernail or the side of a credit card.
If you receive a honey bee sting, one of the most important things to do is not to panic. Panic by the person or those around him/her can produce a systemic reaction in itself. Many people believe they are allergic to honey bees when in fact they are experiencing symptoms of a normal reaction.
Only a very limited portion of the population (one or two out of 1000) is allergic or hypersensitive to bees or wasps. The average person can safely tolerate 10 bee stings per pound of body weight. This means that although 500 could kill a child, the average adult could withstand more than 1100. Most deaths have occurred in elderly individuals who may have had poor cardiopulmonary functioning.
The first thing you should do is remove the stinger. The end is barbed and will remain stuck in the skin even if the bee is removed. Muscles allow it to continue pumping venom into the victim, even if it is no longer connected to the bee, for up to a minute or until it is removed. The sooner it is removed, the less venom will enter the wound. Honey bees are able to do it only once and eventually die afterward.
(1) Local Reactions:A local reaction is usually characterized by pain, swelling, redness, itching, and a wheal surrounding the wound made by the apparatus. Swelling can sometimes be severe. For instance, if stung on the finger, the arm may be swollen even up to the elbow. Swelling such as this is fairly common, even though it may be alarming.
However, a more serious allergic reaction may be indicated if other parts of the body besides the general area in which the puncture occurred beginning to swell. For example, if stung on the left hand and the right hand or neck shows swelling you should seek medical attention immediately. Normal swelling may last up to a few days. During the days following an incident, the wound may itch.
This is the reaction of a majority of persons and those suffering it are considered to be at little risk of death, unless the mouth or throat is affected so that the respiratory tract is obstructed. Many in the general population continue to believe that because they “swell up,” they are at risk of losing their life when stung by bees.
How to alleviate the effect: Swelling may be reduced by icing the wound and/or taking an antihistamine such as Benadryl®. Topical solutions such as calamine may also help to alleviate the pain. It is beneficial to drink plenty of water.
(2) Systemic, Allergic, or Life-Threatening Reactions:It is possible to have a sever allergic reaction to a bee sting that is not life-threatening. Remember, if an allergic reaction occurs, do seek medical attention immediately, but try not to panic. Panic will only worsen the reaction. Allergic reactions can develop anywhere on the body and may include:
. Rash or hives
. Stomach cramps, nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea
. Dizziness or severe headache
. Swelling not in the general area of the puncture site, especially throat, neck, or tongue
. Shortness of breath or difficulty in swallowing
. Drop in blood pressure
If you experience any of these symptoms, after experiencing a bee sting, seek emergency medical assistance immediately. Symptoms can begin immediately following the incident or up to 30 minutes later and might last for hours. Anaphylaxis, or the inability to breath, will occur within seconds or minutes.
Anaphylaxis, if treated in time, usually can be reversed by epinephrine (adrenaline) injected into the body. Individuals who are aware that they are allergic should carry epinephrine in either a normal syringe or an auto-injector (EpiPen®) whenever they think they might encounter insects. Epinephrine is obtainable only by prescription from a physician.