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Bee Stings: Battling the Bumble

Bees, yellow jackets, hornets, and wasps generally sting people in self-defense or to protect their nest or hive.

If you’ve ever battled a bumble, you know their stings can be extremely painful.

If you’re stung, whether you know if you have a venom allergy or not, it’s important to remove the stinger from the skin.

Bees and some yellow jackets have a barbed stinger that can lodge in the skin.  These stingers are attached to the venom sac.  Remove stingers as rapidly as possible in order to minimize the amount of venom that enters your skin.

Treating Bee Stings

Most stings will cause redness and painful swelling around the sting.  The symptoms of your sting will peak 48 hours from sting time and will gradually resolve over 5-10 days on average.  Most bee stings can be treated with nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDS) pain relievers like ibuprofen.  Itching and swelling may be helped by over the counter antihistamines such as Benadryl or from topical steroid creams.

For most people, only a minor local reaction occurs. For those with venom allergies, bee and wasp stings may cause allergic reactions, known as anaphylaxis.

Anaphylactic Reaction to Bee Stings

Anaphylaxis can cause fatalities. A single sting is sufficient to cause a severe reaction in a venom-allergic person. Anaphylaxis is reported in 1/3-3% of stings. Bee stings cause 40 to 100 deaths a year in the US.

Anaphylactic symptoms can be broken down into three groups:

  1. Skin Symptoms: Rash, flushing and swelling are common reactions.  Most children will show skin symptoms when experiencing a systemic allergic reaction.
  2. Respiratory Symptoms: A hoarse voice, shortness of breath, wheezing and swelling of the airways.
  3. Cardiovascular Symptoms: These may range from feeling lightheaded, low blood pressure to shock and acute circulatory failure.

Venom allergies and severe systemic reaction can develop at any age.  Adults are more likely to suffer severe reactions and stings are more likely to cause death in adult patients.  If

Individuals who have systemic allergic reactions are given epinephrine auto-injectors, commonly known as epi-pens.

If you suspect you’re having a systemic allergic reaction to a bee sting, you should consider following up with an allergist/immunologist.  These specialists can determine if they are candidates for venom immunotherapy.