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Check Your Health: Best Ways To Deal With Nasty Bee Stings

July 30, 2013 by Special To The ...

Check Your Health_6.jpgCheck Your Health is a web-only feature being offered monthly by The Cheshire Herald. Each month, a professional from MidState Medical Center will offer advice on a different issue pertaining to health.

You’re cutting your lawn and suddenly you realize you’ve run over a hornet’s nest. You know what’s coming next and you see the swarm rise up. You run! You think you’ve escaped but then you feel that dreaded sting on your upper thigh. Too late…you got tagged by the quickest hornet of the bunch.
Knowing what to do if you get stung can lessen your pain and, if you’re very allergic, can save your life.
Late summer and early fall see an increase in the activity and aggressiveness of bees, wasps and hornet not too mention an increase in the outdoor activities of humans. Like most insects, bees, wasps and hornets generally don’t want a fight, unless you bother them or their nest. The best prevention is to avoid disturbing them altogether. Despite this, one million stings occur each year in the United States. Most are only annoying and painful but 3% of those results in potentially serious reactions.
The first thing you should do is remove the stinger, if it is still present. A bee’s stinger is attached to a small sac that contains the bee’s venom. This sac can still actively inject venom into your skin for up to a minute after the sting. Honey bees stingers have barbs in them, so they tend to rip away from the bee and stay in you. Hornets, yellow jackets and wasps have smoother stingers, so they can sting repeatedly and are less apt to leave a stinger. It doesn’t matter how you remove it, just that you do it quickly. Studies have dispelled the myth that scraping the stinger away is better than just grabbing it.
Ice or cool soaks should be applied as soon as possible, in conjunction with cleaning the site of the sting with soap and water to prevent infection. You should also elevate the part of the body that got stung.
All bee stings cause some degree of an allergic response, from mild to life-threatening, so unless there is a reason you cannot take benadryl, you should. Just remember that benadryl can make you sleepy so take this into account if you’re tired, driving or if you’ve been drinking alcohol.
Mild allergic reactions take the form of pain, itching, swelling and redness. More severe allergic reactions can cause itchiness all over and hives. The most severe, life-threatening reactions cause anaphylaxis. Anaphylactic reactions can result in closing of the throat, closing of the lung tubes, and a dangerous drop in blood pressure. Death can occur.
The degree of one’s allergic reaction then determines what you should do about it. Mild allergic reactions can be treated as mentioned above, with cool soaks, elevation of the limb and benadryl. Anaphylactic reactions require emergency treatment with all sorts of medication including epinephrine. For those patients with a known anaphylactic reaction or those at risk, a physician may have already prescribed an EpiPen that allows the patient to self-administer epinephrine as soon as possible while awaiting 911 to arrive.
Allergic reactions are your body’s way of defending itself against foreign invaders. Allergic reactions have “memory.” Once you are exposed to something, the body prepares itself to react to the foreign invader the next time it encounters it. Sometimes these reactions “over-react” and release too many chemicals putting you in discomfort or danger. It follows then that with each exposure to a bee sting, the greater the chance for an increasingly severe reaction and the shorter the time-frame between stings, the greater the risk. Still, overall, out of the estimated one million stings per year, only 3% result in severe reactions. Most severe reactions will take place within the first 4 hours of a sting with 50% of deaths occurring within 30 minutes.
While it is possible to have a fatal reaction to a bee sting with no previous stings, the norm is to have a severe, generalized reaction after a serious of increasingly more severe reactions. If this describes you, you should discuss this with your physician.
There are some simple steps you can take to avoid getting stung, no matter what your reaction. Avoid disturbing them or their nests. Avoid wearing bright colors or perfume when outside. At a picnic, check the edge of your soda can before taking a sip. Shake out clothing that you’ve left outside.
On another note: don’t forget to enjoy the flowers they pollinate or the honey they produce!

Walt Kupson, D.O.
Medical Director,
MediQuick Urgent Care Services

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