Bees – though they may be important animals in the greater ecosystem, they can cause humans a lot of agonies when we encounter them. For most, a bee sting only produces temporary pain and moderate swelling at the site of the sting, which dissipates quickly.
For a minority, a bee sting can be fatal. It’s estimated that 5-7% of people will experience a serious allergic reaction to a bee sting.
People with bee sting allergies can still enjoy the great outdoors if they understand their allergy and how to treat it.
Bee Stings Trigger a Severe Immune Reaction in Those Who Are Allergic
Bee venom contains proteins that affect the skin cells and immune system. In those who are not allergic, a small, localized reaction occurs.
When someone is allergic to bee stings, the body reacts much more seriously to bee venom. In allergic populations, bee venom causes the immune system to produce immunoglobulin E, an immune defense usually deployed by the body to beat dangerous viruses and bacteria.
In the case of a bee sting, this immune response is overpowered. This results in the body’s disproportionate reaction to the sting, causing hives, swelling, and even breathing problems.
Bee Allergies Can Range from Mild to Severe
Not everyone allergic to bee stings will break out in full-body hives or experience respiratory distress. Like all allergies, bee sting allergies are experienced as a spectrum of symptoms.
- A mild reaction is the most common type. While some people may be stung by a bee and barely get a welt, those with mild reactions will experience a red bump, some swelling, and pain. It dissipates quickly and does not need medical attention.
- A moderate reaction is also possible. A moderate reaction causes significant, localized symptoms. These symptoms are not extreme enough to cause full-body side effects, like trouble breathing. This type of reaction causes an abnormally large welt around the sting, as well as higher-than-average levels of swelling and pain. Moderate reactions stay local to the sting and never spread to other areas.
- Severe reactions. When someone says allergic reaction, this is the type of response that likely comes to mind. These reactions are life-threatening and can quickly result in anaphylaxis, as well as itchy hives, dizziness, rapid pulse, vomiting, and more.
Allergies May Not Display Themselves the First Time Someone is Stung
Someone can get stung and have no reaction, only to be stung again later and experience an allergic reaction. Typically, bee sting allergies are genetic, though they may display themselves at different times in one’s life. Additionally, one sting may not produce an allergic reaction, but if the person is later stung by several bees at once, they may display an allergic reaction.
Severe Reactions Require an EpiPen
If you or someone you love has experienced a severe reaction to a bee sting, they should get an EpiPen from their doctor to carry with them. If a severe reaction to a bee sting begins, a quickly administered shot from an EpiPen can reduce the severe symptoms. Even if the EpiPen has been administered, the person should still be taken to an emergency room.
Dealing with a bee sting allergy can be scary and stressful, but luckily medications like the EpiPen are widely available. You can protect yourself by educating yourself on bee sting reactions and carrying the right tools if you are allergic.
Bee Sting Allergy: Symptoms of Anaphylaxis (healthline.com)