If you’ve spent any time outdoors this summer, you’ve likely encountered bees. In fact, in April, a swarm of honeybees surrounding a tree branch temporarily shut down a portion of the playground at Buda Elementary School. While honeybees are generally harmless if left alone, Africanized bees can be dangerous.
Recently, there have been numerous reports of bee attacks in surrounding counties. According to experts, the recent rains that helped ease the drought conditions have also provided more food for bees, including the aggressive Africanized bees.
While most bee stings can easily be treated at home, immediate emergency medical treatment may be required if a person incurs multiple stings or has an allergic reaction to a sting.
When a bee stings, it digs its barbed stinger—and the attached sac of venom—into a person’s skin. However, prompt and effective treatment can lessen the severity of the sting.
- Remove the stinger. Removing the stinger the right way may keep additional venom from being released. (It only takes a few seconds for the venom to enter the body.) The best way to do this is to use the edge of a credit card or a pair of tweezers. Be careful not to squeeze the attached venom sac, as it may release more venom.
- Wash the site of the sting. Thoroughly wash the sting area with soap and water.
- Apply a cold compress. Applying a cold compress can help relieve any pain or swelling that might occur as a result of the sting.
- Ease symptoms. You may need to apply hydrocortisone cream or calamine lotion to ease itching or swelling. If these symptoms persist, it may be necessary to take an oral antihistamine, such as Benadryl. Avoid scratching the site of the sting, as it can worsen symptoms and increase the risk of infection.
Bee stings are much more dangerous for those who are severely allergic to them (although many people are not even aware they are allergic), as well as those who suffer multiple bee stings.
During an anaphylactic attack, people can develop difficulty breathing and experience a drop in blood pressure, which can lead to shock. These cases require immediate emergency care. Call 911 or have someone drive you to the nearest emergency room (ER). Do not try to drive yourself to the ER. By doing so, you may not only endanger your life, but also the lives of others who may be driving or walking near you should you go into shock and become unable to operate your vehicle.
When a severe reaction occurs, medical experts may use epinephrine (adrenaline) to treat the body’s allergic response, as well as oxygen to compensate for compromised breathing. Albuterol may be used to relieve breathing symptoms. Some conditions may also require intravenous antihistamines and/or steroids to reduce allergic reaction symptoms.
If you already know you’re allergic to bee stings, you may have probably been prescribed an emergency epinephrine auto-injector, such as an EpiPen—a self-administered syringe that injects a single dose of medicine, when needed. Always carry it with you and be mindful of its expiration date. Also, make sure the people around you know how to administer the drug, should you be unable to do so yourself. It could save your life.
Perhaps the easiest way to avoid a dangerous reaction is to avoid an encounter with bees altogether. Remember that flowery colognes, perfumes and soaps may attract bees, as can bright colors and certain foods and beverages. Also, keep your car windows up, your garbage and recycling cans closed, and stay away from bee hives or nests. If you spot a nest outside your home, call a professional exterminator to deal with the problem.
— Megan Hood, M.D., is the medical director of St. David’s Urgent Care Kyle