‘Bee’ ready for insect stings as summer season approaches

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Summer is the season for gardening, playing outside, picnics in the garden, and just enjoying the great outdoors. It’s also the time of year for bees and other insect bites. According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, approximately 5% of the population are allergic to insect bites. But most people aren’t aware of their allergy until they’re bitten.

The reactions to insect bites (wasps, bees, hornets) range from minor to potentially fatal. In most cases, bees and other stings are just annoying, causing brief, sharp pain, as well as slight swelling and redness. Home treatment is all that is needed to relieve the pain. However, if you are allergic or get stung multiple times, a more severe reaction (anaphylaxis) may require emergency treatment.

If you are stung and have an allergic reaction, this is what happens: Your immune system produces immunoglobulin E, which reacts to the venom injected by the insect. This triggers the release of histamine and other chemicals in your body that can cause serious reactions, such as:

  • Itching and hives all over the body

  • Swelling of the throat and tongue

  • Difficulty breathing

  • Dizziness and nausea

  • Stomach cramps and diarrhea

  • Rapid drop in blood pressure leading to shock and possible loss of consciousness

Remove the stinger as soon as possible after each sting. It only takes seconds for the poison to enter your body. Use your fingernails or tweezers. Then wash the stitch area with soap and water.

If you notice a mild to moderate reaction such as redness, warmth, or swelling around the sting, apply a cold compress and take an over-the-counter oral antihistamine. You may want to apply hydrocortisone cream or calamine lotion to relieve symptoms.

If you are more severe to single or multiple bee stings, even if it’s just one or two of the serious symptoms listed above, call 911.

The following tips can help reduce your risk of being stung by bees, hornets, and wasps:

  • Be careful when drinking sweet drinks outside. Wide, open cups may be the best option because you can see if there is a bee in them. Check cans and straws before drinking from them.

  • Cover food containers and trash cans tightly.

  • Clear away trash, fallen fruit, and droppings from dogs or other animals that can attract flies, and flies can attract wasps.

  • Wear closed-toe shoes when you go outside.

  • Avoid wearing bright colors or floral prints that can attract bees.

  • Avoid wearing loose clothing that can trap stinging insects between the fabric and your skin.

  • Keep the windows open while driving.

  • Use caution when mowing the lawn or cutting off vegetation, activities that could disrupt a beehive or wasp’s nest.

  • Have a professional remove beehives and nests near your home.

  • If there are a few bees flying around you, keep calm and walk away slowly. If you hit an insect, it can sting.

  • If you are stung or have a lot of bugs flying around, cover your mouth and nose and get out of the area quickly. If you can, get into a building or closed vehicle. When a bee stings, it releases a chemical that attracts other bees.

If you have had an allergic reaction to a bee, wasp or hornet sting, you should talk to your doctor or an allergic person about prevention and treatment options. This may include prescribing an emergency medication, such as an adrenaline auto-injector, that can be used for stinging. In more severe cases, allergy shots can be a long-term solution for you.