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Bee Sting

Bee Sting

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Updated May 12, 2013

Bee Sting

Stinging insects, such as honeybees, can cause severe allergic reactions by injecting venom into the skin of a person who is allergic to proteins contained within the venom.

Updated May 12, 2013

Bee Sting

Allergic reactions to flying stinging insects (honeybees, hornets, wasps and yellow jackets) are relatively common.

Most people who are stung by these insects will develop a reaction at the site of the sting that will cause pain, swelling, redness and itching. A smaller percent of people -- about 10 to 15% -- also will experience larger areas of swelling, and the swelling can last up to a week. Rarer still are people who have full-blown allergic reactions that cause anaphylaxis. About .5% of children and 3% of adults will experience anaphylaxis after a stinging insect bite.

In addition, about 40 people in the United States die every year from a venom allergy, although there are likely other deaths from insect stings that are attributed to other causes, and therefore this number is probably a low estimate. Most of these deaths occured among people without a known history of venom allergy. Still, keep in mind this is a very small number of people.

Who's most at risk of having an allergic reaction? People with a history of other allergic diseases, such as allergic rhinitis and asthma.

Signs of Anaphylaxis

When someone has whole-body (systemic, or anaphylaxis) allergic reactions to insect stings, they may experience any or all of the following symptoms, usually within a matter of minutes to a few hours:

  • itching all over,
  • hives or swelling that spreads from the site of the sting,
  • flushing,
  • runny nose, sneezing or post-nasal drip,
  • itchy/watery eyes,
  • swelling of the lips, tongue or throat,
  • shortness of breath, wheezing or coughing,
  • stomach cramping, nausea, vomiting or diarrhea,
  • lightheadedness, fast heart rate, low blood pressure or passing out,
  • sense of panic or metallic taste in the mouth.

Which Stinging Insects Cause Venom Allergies?

Yellow jackets are wasp-like insects that live in mounds built into the ground, They tend to be aggressive insects, and are a common nuisance at picnics and around trash cans where food and sugary drinks are abundant. Stings on the lip or inside the mouth or throat can occur when a drink is taken from an open can of soda that a yellow jacket had crawled into. Occasionally, stings from yellow jackets can result in a skin infection because these insects can carry bacteria.

Hornets, including yellow and white-faced hornets, build paper-mâché type nests in trees and shrubs. These insects may be very aggressive, and sting people because of a mild disruption, such as someone nearby mowing a lawn or trimming a tree.

Wasps build honey-comb nests under the eaves of a house, or in a tree, shrub or under patio furniture. They tend to be less aggressive than yellow jackets and hornets, and mostly feed on insects and flower nectar.

Honeybees commonly nest in tree hollows, logs or inside buildings. Away from their hive, honeybees tend to be non-aggressive, but can be more aggressive when their hive is threatened or disturbed. Stings from honeybees are common when a person walks barefoot on a clover-filled lawn. They are the only stinging insect to routinely leave a stinger in the victim’s skin, although other stinging insects occasionally do so as well.

Africanized (killer) honeybees are far more aggressive than domestic honeybees, which were created by cross-breeding African honeybees with domestic honeybees in South America for the purpose of greater honey production. Their venom is essentially the same as domestic honeybees – meaning that a person allergic to a typical honeybee will also be allergic to Africanized honeybees. They tend to sting in large groups, sometimes by the hundreds.

Bumblebees rarely sting people because they are non-aggressive and typically mild mannered. They will sting if provoked or if their nest is disturbed, but they are so loud and slow, a person usually has plenty of time and warning to escape. They nest in the ground or in piles of grass clippings or wood, and feed on insects and flower nectar.

Do you think you know the difference between a wasp and a yellow jacket? How about a honeybee and a hornet? Take the stinging insect identification quiz.

How Do I Avoid Being Stung?

Put simply, the best way to prevent an allergic reaction is to avoid being stung. Here are a few tips:

  • Hire a trained exterminator to treat any known nests in the immediate area; periodic surveillance for further infestation should be performed.
  • Avoid looking or smelling like a flower. Do not wear brightly colored clothing or flowery prints, or perfumes or other scents that will attract insects.
  • Always wear shoes when walking outside, particularly on grass.
  • Wear pants, long-sleeved shirts, gloves, close-toed shoes and socks when working outdoors.
  • Use caution when working around bushes, shrubs, trees and trash cans.
  • Always check food and drinks (especially open cans of soda or drinks with straws) before consuming, especially at pools and picnics, where yellow jackets are known to be present.
  • Keep an insecticide, approved for the use on stinging insects, available should treatment of a nest be necessary.
Click page 2 for information on diagnosis and testing of venom allergies:
  1. About.com
  2. Health
  3. Allergies
  4. Insect Allergies
  5. Bee Sting -- Bee Sting Allergy

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