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Should I worry about bee stings?

Misconceptions & myths about bees and the fear of getting stung

The fear of bees, called “Melissophobia” or “Apiphobia”, is a common one in people. It is generally based on misconceptions; however, some people are extremely allergic to bee stings and must always be prepared with an epipen or other antihistamines.

When many people hear the word “bee”, they think of stinging insects, often seen hovering around their picnics in the summer. But this is an error of identification. Most times people think they are being “chased” by a bee, it’s actually a yellowjacket (a type of wasp). Yellowjackets are carnivorous, unlike bees (which are vegetarians), which is why they are present in the park and around your food while you eat. Bees are not usually interested in food or sweet drinks while they are busy visiting flowers for nectar and pollen! Many people believe that bees will chase and sting you and that they can recruit members of their colony to join them in this “chase”. Bees will rarely sting. They are not aggressive unless provoked and, as they are not territorial, they will not chase to sting for no reason. Wasps are much more aggressively defensive and therefore often more likely to sting when their nests are approached.

Bee sting prevention

If you see a bee let it be; don’t swat it or step on them. Our bees don’t attack unless they feel they need to defend their hive. Typically, honeybees will only defend the area in front of the entrance to the hive.

First Aid for bee stings

Bees usually leave their barbed sting in the skin and then die. Remove the sting as soon as possible (within 30 seconds) to limit the amount of venom injected. Use a hard surface such as the edge of a credit card, car key or fingernail to flick/scratch out the barb.

For a minor reaction such as pain and local swelling, a cold pack may help relieve these symptoms.

If a bee stings you around your neck, or you find it difficult to breathe, or experience any wheezing, dizziness or light-headedness, seek medical advice urgently.

How do I know if I am allergic?

If you have not been stung by a bee before you are unlikely to be allergic to the venom. However, if you have been stung by a bee, there is the potential to develop an allergy. We do not know why some people become allergic and others don’t, but how often you are stung seems to play a role.

If you have experienced very large local reactions from a bee sting, or symptoms separate from the sting site (such as swelling, rashes and itchy skin elsewhere, dizziness or difficulty breathing) you may have an allergic sensitivity. Your doctor can assess you by taking a full history of reactions. Skin testing or blood allergy testing can help confirm or exclude potential allergy triggers.

An allergy specialist is key to assess people’s risk of severe allergic reactions (anaphylaxis).

There is an effective treatment for severe honey bee allergies, called immunotherapy. This involves the regular administration of venom extracts with doses gradually increased over a period of three to five years. This aims to desensitise the body’s immune system, essentially to “switch off” the allergic reaction to the venom.

Source: Bee aware, but not alarmed: here’s what you need to know about honey bee stings. The Conversation. November 16, 2017

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