STINGS & ALLERGIES

small bee

We are all taught from a young age to be careful, even fearful, of bees and wasps due to the disproportionate amount of pain these little critters can cause. As a beekeeper, we have higher levels of exposure to bee stings. It goes with the territory. Different stings have different effects though, and minimizing the severity of stings can only be a good thing. There are lots of things we can do…

Keep nice bees! 'Angry bees make more honey' is a fallacy repeated by people with crappy bees! A colony that repeatedly sends half of their girls out to commit suicide on your bee suit is not optimizing foraging time. This could turn into a rant, so moving on…

Be a fairweather beekeeper. This has been used as a derogatory term, but unfairly so. You would be fairly defensive if somebody turned up at your place on a freezing cold day and ripped your roof off without warning. If you visit your hive during good weather, the majority of the mature bees will be out foraging (i.e. unavailable to sting you) The juvenile bees that are in the hive have not fully developed their venomous potential, their stings are milder and do not cause as severe a reaction. It just makes sense!

Use a little bit of smoke, to mask any alarm pheromone, if you need too. Go slowly, give the bees time to adjust to the change in light levels and temperature while being worked. Watch those big ham fists; heavy leather gloves can crush bees, not only causing alarm within the hive, but any stings that lodge in the gloves can cause venom to be held against your skin for prolonged periods. Keep brood in the hive if possible, and keep nice bees…

Every sting is not the same, and some of us have stronger reactions than others. A sting is designed to cause immediate pain and make you think twice about interfering with the hive. The sting is barbed, and the guilty bee does not have the opportunity to become a repeat offender. The venom sac is often left attached to the sting left embedded in your skin, it continues to contract and pump venom into you after said bee has left the scene of the crime. The sooner you remove the sting, the less venom you receive, lessening your response. There is no good place to be stung, we have tried them all (well…almost) lips, ears and under the fingernails are least favourite!

ALLERGIES

We all react to bee venom. For some the reaction can be extreme and require medical attention. Anaphylactic reactions to bee venom are common in the beekeeping world. It used to be called beekeepers’ wives syndrome, stemming from repeated exposure to tiny quantities of bee venom impregnated in overalls, gloves and vehicles. The venom can aerosolize and be inhaled as well as absorbed through physical contact. This would stimulate an increased immune response in wives and children, not directly exposed to stings but continuous low doses of venom. To keep loved ones safe when you are beekeeping, store your gear away from your living area, in a lidded tub preferably in a garage or shed. Airing your suit well outdoors after use is highly recommended.

People sometimes worry about having an anaphylactic reaction to their first bee sting, this is generally unlikely as you develop a stronger reaction after a previous exposure event. If you have a bee sting and have any symptoms other than the usual stabby pain followed by localized swelling, consult your doctor. Symptoms can include (but are not limited to) a rash, difficulty breathing, nausea and increased heart rate. If a problem is suspected, you may be advised to carry an EpiPen or adrenalin kit. Better safe than sorry…