As flowers begin to bloom, bees get busy.
Spring season marks the start of bee season. And those who might be allergic to them need to prepare.
5-7.5% of the population is severely allergic to bees, meaning having severe allergic reactions or anaphylaxis, in which they can stop breathing or die.
However, most stings may be mild. Here are your questions answered.
What is bee venom?
Bee venom is clear, colorless and bitter. It’s injected when a bee feels threatened and is comprised of various proteins and enzymes that can cause inflammation and also prevent one’s blood from clotting. These proteins can induce an allergic response in a human. Unlike a severe allergic reaction that can ensue, the venom itself is rarely fatal as it would take multiple bee stings to inject a lethal enough dose for a human.
One report cited 90 stings for a small child and up to 600 stings for an adult to reach lethal levels of bee venom, however, so running into a bee-hive, for example, could put one at risk for venom toxicity.
How do you treat a bee sting?
Mild bee stings can be cared for by the following:
- clean the area of the sting with soap and water
- use cool compresses (not ice) to decrease swelling and pain
- medications such as antihistamines or corticosteroid creams if suggested by one’s medical provider
Also make sure your tetanus shot is up to date…before a sting happens ideally.
For severe reactions, however, you would need to call 911 or seek immediate medical assistance.
What are severe bee sting reactions?
Symptoms of severe reactions to a bee sting may include the following:
- difficulty swallowing
- difficulty breathing
- swelling of lips, tongue or throat
- severe swelling of sting area
- rapid heart rate
- feeling faint
- abdominal pain
- chest pain
Please note these symptoms do not have to occur immediately after the sting but can occur hours or even days later. Contact a medical professional immediately or call 911 if you feel you are having a severe allergy.
Avoiding Bee Stings – If you don’t bug the bee…
There’s some truth in the saying “If you don’t bug the bee, the bee won’t bug you.”
Bees usually just want to do their business….collect nectar. So if you aren’t sweet and flowery, they may not want to go near you. That being said, however, don’t be sweet and flowery. Perfume, sugary drinks, vape scents may attract the bees to you, so use caution.
When outside, avoid walking barefoot, so use socks and shoes. Wear long shirts and pants to cover exposed skin.
Avoid wearing bright colors but also avoid dark colors. Pale, non vibrant clothes are the least attractive to a bee.
Bees may hide from the sun and predators in plants, trees and under objects so avoid disrupting what could be a possible hiding place.
If you believe you may be severely allergic to a bee sting, contact your medical provider to see if you need an Epi-Pen prescription to have on hand.
What is an Epi-Pen?
The EpiPen® auto-injector contains epinephrine, used during an emergency to treat severe allergic reactions, or anaphylaxis.
If one is allergic to an insect or food, a severe allergic reaction may ensue upon exposure, in which the immune system releases a flood of chemicals that can cause throat tightness, hives, lip and facial swelling, difficulty breathing, nausea, vomiting, low blood pressure, rapid heart rate, cardiac arrest and possibly death.
Epinephrine stimulates the heart to increase cardiac muscle contractility, cardiac output, subsequently raising the blood pressure. Additionally it relaxes the muscles surrounding the airways, allowing one to breathe easier and take in more oxygen. Moreover it helps to stop the release of additional immune chemicals.
The EpiPen® is manufactured by Mylan. Its cost made headlines when the EpiPen two-pack recently stickered for close to $600. Now generic forms are available costing anywhere from $109-$300 for a dual pack.
The disposable auto-injector, for an adult, delivers 0.3 mg of epinephrine, while the EpiPen Jr., used in pediatric populations, delivers 0.15mg of the medication. It can be self-administered, through clothing if necessary, into the thigh muscle in one smooth movement once the safety release is removed.
After 0.3 ml is administered during the single adult dose, the EpiPen® unit is discarded.
Daliah Wachs, MD, FAAFP is a nationally syndicated radio personality on GCN Network, KDWN, and iHeart Radio.