Summer is here. The grass is growing. The flowers are blooming; the bees are buzzing.
Alarming one of these small insects could result in a painful sting.
The best way to avoid being stung is to stay away from wasp nests and beehives. But even with the best of intentions, sometimes we find ourselves in the wrong place at the wrong time. At those times, the insect’s self-preservation instincts take over, and you get stung.
The painful burning and stinging sensation occurs when the bee or wasp inserts its venom-loaded stinger into the skin. It takes just an instant, but the pain and subsequent itching may last a few days.
The sting of a honey bee can be up to 46 times more potent than the sting of a wasp. However, the honey bee only stings once and usually leaves its barbed stinger behind. Wasps have smooth stingers and are able to sting multiple times. Both types of stings can cause pain, redness and swelling.
Most of the time, you can take care of bee stings at home.
- If the stinger is still in the skin, remove it as soon as possible. An embedded stinger can continue to inject venom for up to 1 minute. Be careful not to squeeze the stinger’s sac which will inject more venom into the bloodstream.
- Wash the area with soap and water.
- Apply an antibacterial ointment.
- If burning, itching or swelling continues, apply an ice pack or a package of frozen vegetables to the skin for 20 minutes. Rest for 20 minutes and then reapply as needed. Place a cloth between the “ice” and the skin to avoid freezing the skin.
- If you feel itchy, take an over-the-counter antihistamine containing diphenhydramine (pronounced: DYE fen HIGH dra mean) to counteract the venom.
Watch for an allergic reaction.
According to an article published in the July 2015, issue of the Journal of Asthma and Allergy, 1 in 15 people may have an allergic reaction to bee stings.
The allergy may cause a system-wide reaction such as itching over the entire body, which can be treated with an antihistamine.
A more serious response known an anaphylaxis can be life-threatening. Anaphylaxis requires immediate medical attention. A severe anaphylaxis reaction to a bee or wasp sting can cause the heart to stop within 5 to 10 minutes.
Symptoms of anaphylaxis include:
- Difficulty breathing
- Chest tightness
- Facial swelling
- Spreading hives
- Loss of consciousness
If you’ve been stung more than ten times or you experience an allergic reaction, call 911 or get to an emergency room as soon as possible. If an EpiPen® is available, use it.
People who are allergic to bee stings should always have an EpiPen with them. This portable injection of epinephrine (adrenaline) increases blood pressure and heart rate while relaxing the lungs to improve breathing. It can also help reduce hives and swelling. The person who has the allergy should tell others when and how to use the EpiPen in an emergency.
Once you have had an allergic reaction to bee stings or other allergens, you may be more susceptible to anaphylaxis. Working with an allergist may help you minimize your reactions in the future.
AUTHORS: Gina Ramthun, APNP, and Heidi Heise, APNP, at the Ministry Medical Group Clinic in Wausau