In Australia, bees claim about two lives annually. Whilst fatalities caused by bee stings are rare, bees hospitalise people more than any venomous creature.
Read on and learn what happens when you’re stung by a bee, and how you can tell whether you’ll get a severe reaction or not.
How Do Bees Sting?
Bees possess a venom sac and, at the end of their abdomen, a barbed stinger. They use these parts when they feel threatened or under attack, mainly to defend their hive from being destroyed.
Once the bee pierces the skin with its barb, venom is injected and pheromones are released. These pheromones can stimulate nearby bees to join the defensive attack.
When injected into our body, bee venom can lead to itching, irritation, local swelling and pain that may last for hours. In spite of this, certain bee venom components have been utilised in cancer treatments.
How Our Body Reacts to Bee Venom
Whilst a single sting is almost always limited to the aforementioned local effects, there are people who develop an allergy to some bee venom proteins.
Anaphylaxis can be launched by our body’s immune system to try and protect us against the venom. It is a severe allergic reaction that can be lethal.
What causes life-threatening problems and hospitalisation is actually not the bee venom itself but our body’s allergy to it.
How Do I Know If I’m Allergic to Bee Venom?
You are unlikely to be allergic to bee venom if you haven’t been stung by a bee before. Otherwise, you can develop an allergy.
You may have an allergic sensitivity if you have gone through large local reaction from the sting, or symptoms separate from the site where you’ve been stung. These include swelling, rashes and itchy skin elsewhere, dizziness and difficulty breathing.
Get assessed by a doctor who will take a full history of your reactions. Blood allergy testing or skin testing can also help eliminate or confirm potential allergy triggers.
What to Do When You’ve Been Stung by a Bee
Unlike wasps, bees leave their sting on the skin, dying shortly after. When you’re stung, get rid of the sting within half a minute. Doing so keeps the amount of venom injected to a minimum.
To flick or scratch out the barb, use a hard surface. This can be the edge of a credit card, fingernail or key. A cold pack may help relieve symptoms of a minor reaction such as local swelling and pain.
If you’re stung in the neck region, or you have difficulty breathing or experience any dizziness, light-headedness or wheezing, seek medical attention immediately.
Bees play an essential role in the environment. If you see a bee, best leave it alone. Don’t try to swat it or step on it. Remember: bees don’t attack unless they feel their hive is in danger.