Bee Stings are No One’s Favorite Things

We call them all bees, even though a honeybee is different from a wasp or a hornet or your morning newspaper, for that matter. But they’re all, and we can add bumblebees, yellow jackets and fire ants, Hymenoptera insects which means that they all can inflict a poisonous bite or sting.

There are 20 active substances in the venom of a honeybee, the wasp family has similar ingredients, but in different percentages. The primary difference is the way they inject that venom. Simply, the honey or bumblebee will leave its stinger the others take them with them.

More often than not, getting a bee sting is just a nuisance, a price to pay for enjoying the outdoors. And most of the time a home remedy is all you need. Your first order of business is to get the stinger out. Since it contains the venom, most experts will tell you to use a flat object to scrape the stinger out as opposed to pulling it out with tweezers, but however you do it, do it gently.

An instant sharp burning pain, a red welt and slight swelling is the common reaction. Wash the area with soap and water, and apply ice. A little hydrocortisone cream or calamine lotion should do the trick to alleviate the pain or itch.

Some people swear by rubbing the sting with a wet aspirin or making a paste of baking soda vinegar and meat tenderizer. Other home remedies include applying tobacco juice (yuck), toothpaste (minty) or a raw onion (yum). If you’re out and about without a first aid kit or vegetables, good old mud will probably work just as well and probably won’t smell so strange.

Roughly 10 percent of the population will have a more serious reaction. This will include extreme redness and swelling that will enlarge over the next few days. Symptoms should be resolved in five to 10 days. If not, seek medical attention. Just because you had a reaction this time, doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re allergic to stings or that it’ll happen again.

However, a severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) can be life threatening and you must seek emergency medical treatment immediately. These symptoms include a skin reaction somewhere away from the sting, such as hives, and you’ll become both flushed and pale. Difficulty breathing, nausea, dizziness, swelling of the throat and tongue and losing consciousness are typical.

Anaphylaxis requires an emergency shot of epinephrine and other drugs. Call 911 at the onset of any of the described symptoms. Do not drive yourself to the hospital as you may pass out. If you’ve experienced an allergic reaction in the past, you’re more likely to react again even if the previous event was minor. You should have an EpiPen or Twinject with you at all times.

Please note: adults tend to have more severe allergic reactions to bee stings than children do, and they are more likely to die of anaphylaxis than kids are.

Bees will usually only become aggressive in self-defense. However, if you come across a swarm of bees or upset their hive they may attack and the result is that you could be stung several times.

More than a dozen stings will cause a toxic reaction and you’ll become quite sick. You could feel faint, have convulsions, get a fever, or suffer from vomiting, diarrhea or vertigo. Seek medical care immediately.

What do you do short of wearing a Hazmat suit outdoors? Avoid perfumes, lotions or hair products with a strong scent, put a lid on your drink, cover food and wear shoes. Don’t wear bright colors or floral prints and don’t wear loose clothing which can trap bees between the cloth and your skin.

If a bee comes near you stand as still as possible. Yes, your mother was right. They don’t like sudden movements so don’t swat at them or wave your arms. Put something (your shirt, a napkin or tissue) over your nose and mouth and walk away slowly. Be aware that a sting in your nose or mouth is not only uncomfortable but can be very dangerous.

Kathy Hubbard is a member of Bonner General Health Foundation Advisory Council. She can be reached at 264-4029 or by e-mail at kathyleehubbard@yahoo.com.