Being outdoors is part of growing up in South Africa, so bee stings can be expected. Here’s what to do if you’re stung.
Most people aren’t allergic to bee stings. Only about 3% of people have an allergic reaction when they’re stung, with approximately 1% having a severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis). Nevertheless, bee stings are painful. When a bee stings you, its barbed stinger remains behind, stuck in your skin. As the bee pulls away, its poison sack stays on the stinger, and the poison passes into you.
For most people, this will cause a localized reaction; the sting site can be painful and hot, and it may redden. There may be swelling and itchiness as well. This usually lasts a few hours. For those unlucky few who have an allergic reaction to bee stings, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, and/or hives can occur. A severe reaction causes anaphylaxis, which can result in wheezing, difficulty breathing, hives or swelling, a drop in blood pressure, and fainting. Young children may also go pale and floppy. Anaphylaxis will usually happen within minutes of a sting, but can occur up to 30 minutes later.
If you’re stung
- Remove the stinger quickly. Use a flat object to scrape the stinger out without squeezing the poison sack. Most importantly, ensure the stinger is removed quickly, so if you can’t scrape it off, just pull it out.
- Wash the area with soap and water and apply a cold compress or ice.
- Keep an eye on the sting site for any possible secondary infections.
- If your child has never been stung before, and you don’t know if he’s allergic, check for symptoms of an allergic reaction.
- Take an antihistamine and/or apply a hydrocortisone cream, or ask a doctor or chemist what you should take.
- If you or your child is having a severe reaction, get to a hospital immediately.
For those who have severe reactions, speak to your doctor about getting an epinephrine auto-injector (Epi-pen) to carry with you. This gives a shot of adrenaline during anaphylaxis.
If the injection is for your child, make sure you, or whoever is with your child, knows how to use it. If you do need to use it, you’ll still need to go to a hospital straight away.
- Wear shoes outside, especially if you’re in an area where there are lots of bees.
- Don’t bother bees or disturb their hives.
- Avoid using sweet fragrances.
- Check your drinks, especially if you’re drinking sweet drinks from a can. Rather pour these into a glass.
- Cover food at picnics.
- If there is a bee flying around you, stay calm and don’t swat at it.
Remember, the hardworking bee is useful for pollinating flowers and vegetable crops, so let’s be(e) kind to them.