What Everyone Needs to Know About Bee
a Beekeeper's Perspective
Note: If you are
reading this because you were just stung and are having trouble
breathing or swallowing, feel nauseous or have
swelling or hives somewhere other than around the sting site, don't
waste time reading.
Get medical help ASAP
If you are in doubt, at least
get close to a hospital or clinic in case it gets worse!
This page is personal
opinion based on decades of personal experience with bees and stings --
If you are looking for medical information, this is not it. Here
are two authoritative links:
Bee stings Treatments and drugs - Mayo Clinic
Sting Treatment - MedicineNet
Here is a beekeeper's personal perspective.
Please read the
Almost all available advice about stings is
sensational or emphasizes allergies. Very little of that advice admits
that bee stings are pretty insignificant most of the time, causing
little more than some excitement and temporary minor pain, or that some
people actually seek out bee stings for their beneficial effects.
Recent work suggests that about 5% of the population
are currently allergic to stings to some extent, from minor to serious.
Looking at it the other way, about 95% (that's most of us) are not.
For an in-depth perspective about sting allergies,
Here is an article by Eric Mussen with
links to a recent scientific study
reaction to a bee sting is a bit of temporary pain at the
location of the sting, some itching and some swelling. Some parts of
the body are more sensitive than others and swelling is most
noticeable on the face.
are a normal part of life in the country and a normal part of
working with bees. Many people enjoy bees and consider the
occasional sting to be the price we pay for the pleasure of their
company, for having them pollinate our food crops and for providing
us with honey.
are harmless for most people. Although stings are sometimes
painful, they can also be beneficial; bee stings are sometimes
deliberately administered in large numbers to treat diseases such as
MS and arthritis with good results.
wasps and hornets are different in the way they sting and the
venom they carry. Hornets and wasps do not leave a stinger
behind. Bees usually leave a visible stinger in the wound and
it should be removed by brushing or scraping it off as soon as
possible to minimise the amount of venom received.
the stinger as quickly as possible reduces the amount of the
venom injected and reduces the effects. Contrary to what is often
taught, it has been
recently proven that it does not matter how the stinger is
removed. Whether the stinger is scraped off or just brushed off,
speed is the most important factor in minimizing the effects of a
sting. The extra time it takes to carefully scrape the stinger off,
instead of simply brushing it off, may actually result in more venom
being injected than if the stinger is casually brushed away with a
Most of the ill effects from normal stinging incidents come from
panic in the person being stung and bystanders. Panic and
anxiety multiplies the pain, and can result in serious secondary
accidents. Panic by the person stung or those around him/her can
produce a systemic reaction in itself. (ref)
As far as
anyone can know, the amount of pain experienced after a sting is
pretty much the same for everyone, but the amount of itching and
swelling depends on the person being stung and how often the person
has been stung in the past. The actual puncture point where the
stinger penetrated the skin sometimes festers a little bit and a
small pimple on the site is not unusual. This clears up by
itself and is normally no cause for concern.
many people make a huge fuss about being stung and recommend many
remedies, the simple truth is that the less attention that is paid to
a sting, the less painful it is. Preoccupation with the sting
only makes the problem worse. People accustomed to working with
bees do not normally do anything except brush or scratch off
the stinger, unless the sting is in a sensitive area such as near the
eye or elsewhere on the face. If it is, special attention is
taken to ensure the stinger is out.
of the body are more sensitive to stings and each part will
respond differently. The areas near the eyes and lips are
particularly prone to swelling, sometimes result in a most comical
distortion of the person's appearance. For students working
with beekeepers, this usually happens the day before the Prom.
A sting in the eyeball is not to be desired, but we did have one
fellow stung dead centre with no lasting effect -- or pain for that
matter. We rushed him to the doctor and the doctor took a look.
He didn't know exactly what to do either -- other than to extract the
remains of the stinger. Anyhow, nothing came of it. A
sting to the tip of the nose or the ears can bring genuine, heartfelt
tears to the eyes of even an experienced beekeeper. Pain from
stings on fatty areas of the body can inspire amazing language from
the victim. Stings in bony points like wrists and ankles can
cause some temporary aching, much like arthritis, and as for more
private areas, well, the swelling is not quite what some might hope
beekeepers consider stings to be huge joke, but stings should be
taken with some seriousness, if at all possible. <G>
Immunity to Bee Stings
beekeepers experience virtually no reaction to stings and
generally ignore occasional stings in their daily work.
Beekeepers still feel the sting the same as anyone else, but since
they are not worried about stings, the sensation is soon forgotten.
Normally good beekeepers wear a veil to prevent stings to the face,
but work with bare hands and receive occasional stings to the wrists
have never been stung by a bee often have no itching or swelling
at first. After a number of stings most people begin to itch
more and swell at the location of the sting. Sometimes the
swelling can be quite extreme (and comical if it occurs on the face),
however swelling is a normal reaction in someone who is developing
immunity, and only lasts until immunity is developed.
to bee stings builds up fairly quickly in most people.
After several weeks of occasional stings, the reactions diminish,
itching is no longer a problem, and swelling is much reduced.
can fade over periods of time without stings such as over winter.
Some sensitivity is not uncommon for the first few stings after such
a period, even for beekeepers with immunity.
Allergy to Bee Stings
reactions are very rare and although everyone should be aware of
the possibility, a bee sting for most normal people is a minor
inconvenience and is best ignored and forgotten as quickly as
allergy to bee stings -- as to practically any substance -- can
occur. As with any allergy, degree of allergy can vary
from mild to life-threatening. People with bee allergies often
get over them spontaneously or by seeking treatment from an allergist
who specializes in bee stings.
members of beekeepers and those who work with bee products are at
much higher risk of developing a bee sting allergy than members of
the general public, due to low-level exposure to dusts from bees.
For such individuals, getting stung regularly -- once a month? -- is
advisable to prevent developing sensitivity.
to stings can vary in an individual, and a person who has no
reaction on one occasion may respond differently at later time. A
serious reaction on one occasion does not guarantee that subsequent
stings will cause a crisis.
can cause increased sensitivity to stings. Drugs with names
ending in 'phen' are anecdotally implicated.
Doctors and Bee Stings
general practitioners don't seem to know much more than the average
person on the street about bee stings, but they can definitely
save a life in a crisis. If a crisis situation is suspected no
time should be wasted. Call 9-1-1 and get to a hospital as
quickly as possible. Although most such scares are false
alarms, if there is a real anaphylactic reaction, death can occur in
a matter of minutes.
It is a
generally a waste of time and money to consult a doctor unless a
potential life-threatening reaction is suspected, but if there are
symptoms besides swelling, itching and minor rash then consulting a
doctor may be advisable. Nonetheless, any advice received from anyone
but a specialist should be examined with the understanding that many
doctors will play it safe and advise staying away from bees, no
matter how low the risk, since most people do not see any point in
having anything to do with insects anyhow.
that are cause for concern and for which immediate
medical assistance should be sought are any that
difficulty breathing, either due to a systemic reaction or swelling
of the airways
reaction to the sting occurs elsewhere on the body than at the sting
or any which
cause nausea or general feelings of illness
general practitioner or emergency medical team can deal with a
medical crisis arising from a sting, many, if not most, are
unqualified to provide advice beyond that point. Bee sting
allergy is a very specialized field and even many allergists are
actually quite ignorant about bee sting allergy. Think twice
about the actual necessity of any prescription a doctor may want to
write you on your visit. Many doctors hate to send a patient away with
out a prescription for something. Consider how many doctors prescribe
antibiotics for a cold. Everyone knows that viruses are not affected
by antibiotics, but doctors get a fee for writing prescriptions, and
the patient is more likely to go away thinking that he has been
helped, so some doctors make a practice of prescribing useless, and
possibly harmful, medicine.
Desensitization is possible for most people who react badly to
stings. Many who have shown signs of bee sting allergy have
been able to overcome their problem and resume work with bees.
a specialist in bee stings is advised for anyone who experiences
a bad reaction. Local beekeeping organizations can usually
advise which local allergists have a good understanding of bee
allergies and treatment.
treatments are currently being developed to simplify the
of us who love bees and work with them every day that we can, it
is sometimes hard to put ourselves in the place of people who have
never had that unique pleasure, and have never involved themselves
with this amazing part of nature and of life on our planet.
usually are not concerned about occasional stings they receive,
themselves; most beekeepers are understanding and appreciate how
terrifying a sting can be to those who have not learned about bees
try to make sure their bees will not sting neighbours or passersby.
Considering how many beehives and natural swarms can be found in
urban areas worldwide, stings to non-beekeepers are very, very few.
consider joining us in learning about and appreciating bees and
forget that, without bees, we would have much less food on our
Look around. Find a beekeeper or government bee agent and get
involved in helping bees survive in a hostile world.
This information is personal opinion based on 30 years
of experience with bees and believed to be true, however each person
situation is different. YMMV. Use at your own risk.
cautioned that the author is not a medical authority. This
article is not intended to be a substitute for competent personal
professional medical opinion. Readers are cautioned to seek
medical advice if there is any reason to suspect problems with
sensitivity before getting into situations where stings are likely.
Be also aware that diseases, medical conditions personal habits
and/or diets and medications, as well as unusual bee colony history
may cause unpredictable events. Although extremely rare,
serious and fatal stinging events have been known to occur, even to
experienced beekeepers. Always exercise reasonable caution
when approaching or working with bees and have a 'Plan B' at the
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