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Dr. Andrew Rynne
MD
Dr. Andrew Rynne

Family Physician

Exp 50 years

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Article Home First Aid and Emergency Bee Sting

Bee Sting

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Bee sting allergies occur in people who have an abnormally high sensitivity to bee stings, which cause a physical reaction. Allergic reactions to bee stings can be life threatening. Anyone can suffer allergic reactions to bee stings. Although more people die from severe allergic reactions to bee stings each year than from snake bites, only a small number of people with bee sting allergies suffer these types of fatal reactions.

 

What is it?

Bee sting allergies occur in people who have an abnormally high sensitivity to bee stings, which cause a physical reaction. Allergic reactions to bee stings can be life threatening.

Who gets it?

Anyone can suffer allergic reactions to bee stings. Although more people die from severe allergic reactions to bee stings each year than from snake bites, only a small number of people with bee sting allergies suffer these types of fatal reactions.

What causes it?

An allergic reaction occurs when the immune system produces antibodies and other disease fighting cells in response to an allergen, in this case the bee sting. The antibodies release chemicals that actually injure the surrounding cells and cause the physical symptoms of an allergic reaction. Certain antibodies release histamines, which affect the skin, mucous membrane, mucous gland, and smooth muscle cells. Life-threatening allergic reactions can occur without any previous symptoms of allergy. In fact, most people with bee sting allergies do not experience a severe reaction with their first sting. Multiple stings increase the risk of an allergic reaction, but just one sting will cause serious symptoms for someone who is severely allergic.

What are the symptoms?

Bee sting allergy symptoms often begin with a dry cough. Then, the eye area begins to itch and swell. As symptoms progress, the patient begins to sneeze and wheeze, and develop hives that itch. These symptoms may be warning signs of a dangerous condition called anaphylaxis. Symptoms include sudden anxiety and weakness, difficulty breathing, tightness in the chest, very low blood pressure, loss of consciousness, and shock. Anaphylactic shock can occur within minutes and result in death. A patient in anaphylactic shock needs immediate medical treatment.

Bee sting allergies are diagnosed according to the specific symptoms that follow a bee sting.

What is the treatment?

People who are allergic to bee stings should, of course, avoid situations in which they are likely to get stung. Anaphylactic shock is treated with an injection of epinephrine, a hormone that stimulates the heart and relaxes the airways. This may be combined with an injection of an antihistamine, which counteracts the histamine produced by the immune cells during an allergic reaction. Those who are known to have severe bee sting allergies should carry a self-injection kit, including antihistamine tablets, for emergency treatment. However, they should still seek medical care after any type of reaction to a bee sting. People who are severely allergic may undergo a desensitization program, in which a series of injections of bee venom are given in increasingly larger doses until the body shows that it can be tolerated. This type of program must be administered by an allergy specialist and it may take anywhere from 15 to 20 weeks to develop an immunity. These are followed up with monthly booster shots.