Bee Sting Allergy

What Is a Bee Sting Allergy?

Bee stings are wounds that occur when a bee punctures a person’s skin with its stinger. In most cases, these wounds are painful and unpleasant but not a serious threat to one’s health. In a minority of cases, however, the bee-sting recipient develops an allergic reaction to a poison that is injected with the stinger. This reaction can vary in severity, from relatively mild to life-threatening anaphylaxis. The most extreme cases call for emergency medical treatment.

If you experience a severe allergic reaction to a bee sting, seek medical attention immediately. The emergency department at any Baptist Health medical facility is ready to help you. If your bee-sting reaction is relatively mild, but doesn’t respond to home remedies, contact your Baptist Health physician for consultation and treatment.

What Are Bee Sting Allergy Symptoms?

Bee sting allergy symptoms vary considerably, based on the intensity and duration of an individual’s response:

  • Mild reactions: Mild reactions include immediate sharp pain, some swelling, and a red welt where the stinger penetrated the skin. These symptoms rarely last more than a few hours.
  • Moderate reactions: The symptoms of a moderate reaction are similar to those of a milder one, but they last longer – sometimes as much as five to ten days after the incident. Your doctor should be informed of a moderate reaction to a bee sting.
  • Severe reactions: A severe reaction to a bee sting, also called anaphylaxis, constitutes a life-threatening medical emergency. Symptoms include:
    • labored breathing
    • nausea
    • diarrhea
    • dizziness
    • weak or fluttery pulse
    • swollen tongue and throat
    • hives
    • clammy skin
    • loss of consciousness

If you experience symptoms like these, call 911 or proceed to the nearest medical emergency facility. (You may need a friend or a loved one to take you.)

Multiple stings increase the likelihood of a severe reaction. Persons who are not otherwise sensitive to bee stings will sometimes respond differently with a greater volume of the poison in their bodies.

What Causes Bee Sting Allergies?

A bee injects its apitoxin, or poison, into the skin by means of a barbed stinger. Apitoxin contains proteins that trigger a response from the human immune system. In more extreme cases, this response includes the production of antibodies known as immunoglobulin E or IgE. Producing IgE for a bee sting constitutes overkill; this overreaction by the immune system manifests in symptoms such as hives, swollen respiratory passages, and difficulty breathing.

The possibility of an allergic reaction grows with every bee sting. The persons most at risk are those who live near bee hives or who work with bees for a living (for example, beekeepers).

How Is a Bee Sting Allergy Diagnosed?

Your physician will start by giving you a physical exam, asking questions about your symptoms, and recording your medical history. He or she may then test for a bee-sting allergy using one of these methods:

  • Skin prick test: For a skin prick test, a small amount of the allergen, apitoxin, is placed on your skin. If your skin responds by developing redness, itchiness, or a hive-like swelling called a wheal, then you may be sensitive to the allergen.
  • Specific IgE blood test: Blood tests are sometime utilized instead of skin prick tests. Your physician collects a blood sample, which is sent to a medical lab. The allergen is added to your sample, with a measurement taken of the number of antibodies produced in reaction. The greater the number of antibodies, the more likely your immune system is sensitive to the allergen.

How Is a Bee Sting Allergy Treated?

Treatment of a bee sting begins at home. If you’re stung by a bee:

  • Remove the stinger, if it remains in your skin
  • Use soap and water to clean the site
  • Apply ice to reduce swelling
  • Apply hydrocortisone to reduce itching
  • Administer an antihistamine, such as Benadryl

A more serious reaction requires professional medical care. If you’re experiencing anaphylaxis, go to an emergency medical facility, where you’ll receive epinephrine (adrenalin) to counteract the allergic reaction, as well as oxygen and other medications to improve your breathing.

Once you’ve recovered, your doctor may refer you to an allergist. He or she will build up your immunity to bee venom by administering allergy shots with tiny amounts of apitoxin over some period of months or years.

How Do I Prevent a Bee Sting Allergy?

The best way to reduce the risk of a bee sting allergy is not to be stung by a bee. Take the following steps:

  • Hire a pest-control professional to remove any hives or nests close to your home
  • Wear long pants and long-sleeved shirts outdoors
  • Avoid wearing bright colors or heavy perfumes
  • Rather than swatting at bees, walk slowly away from any that approach you
  • Keep lids on outdoor trashcans
  • Don’t drive with your windows down
  • Leave sweet drinks and foods inside the house

If you are allergic to bee stings, carry an epinephrine auto-injector (or Epipen) with you at all times. Make sure to wear a medical ID bracelet that identifies your allergy.

At Baptist Health, We Treat Bee Stings

For most people, bee stings are painful but not life-threatening. If, however, you are allergic to bee stings, then please seek help. If you are experiencing a life-threatening reaction, call 911 or go to the nearest facility equipped to handle medical emergencies. Once you are stabilized, please contact your Baptist Health physician.

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