Bee and wasp stings are either painful or life-threatening, depending on the victim’s reaction to the insect’s venom. Most of us have symptoms of a normal stinging reaction and these can be easily treated at home. However, severe reactions such an allergy require emergency medical intervention.
Statistics say that 5-7% of people will suffer a severe allergic reaction in their lifetime from insect bites. Most people will, however, experience a mild to moderate allergic reaction, in the form of swelling and redness of the affected area. A very small percentage of people require emergency medical intervention. Bees, wasps and fire ants most commonly cause systemic allergic reactions, which spread throughout the body, including the skin and respiratory system.
What happens when you are stung?
At the moment of the sting, the victim feels immediate pain and later, once the insect injects its venom, the affected area reddens and swells slightly. Most people have local reactions. The venom contains histamines and proteins that cause a non-allergic reaction in the skin giving the sensation of itching and causing pain. The swelling can last up to a few days. If other regions of the body begin to swell, contact your doctor.
Allergic reactions occur within 10 minutes of the sting. Reactions include: headache or chest pain, fever, swelling of the face, tongue, lips or body, shortness of breath, fainting. In such situations, the emergency intervention of the doctor is necessary. People who know they are allergic to the venom of these insects should call the emergency department immediately.
What are the symptoms of venom allergy
The symptoms differ depending on the intensity of the allergic reaction (mild, moderate, severe).
Mild allergic reaction. Most people have such a reaction to bee or wasp stings and do not require medical attention. Symptoms are limited to the site of the sting and include: a sharp pain, redness and a slight inflammation.
Moderate allergic reaction. In this case, the body has a stronger response to venom, and the symptoms can last for a week. These include severe redness at and around the sting and inflammation that can spread to 10 cm within 24-48 hours. If a person has a moderate allergic reaction to bee or wasp venom, they have a 5-10% risk of developing a systemic reaction the next time they are stung.
Severe allergic reaction. In some people, a bee sting can lead to anaphylaxis, a serious, life-threatening allergic reaction that requires emergency medical care. Symptoms appear quickly and include skin irritation with itching, pallor, swollen tongue, difficulty breathing, abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting, dizziness, weak pulse, loss of consciousness.
When does bee or wasp venom allergy occur?
Never a first sting can trigger an allergic reaction, much less one of the severity of anaphylaxis, if you have the maximum misfortune to “upset” and then to be attacked by a whole swarm of bees!
At least two contacts of the body with the venom are necessary, so that then, from the third or from any other in the future, the cascade of reactions and the release of mediators of allergic inflammation can be triggered.
It is good to know that the bee does not attack unless it is aggressed (or if it interprets it that way …) and leaves the needle in the tissues at the site of the sting. The wasp is the aggressive one, it can sting in several places and does not leave a needle.
How is the allergy to bee or wasp venom diagnosed?
The allergist will diagnose the allergy to bee or wasp venom based on the anamnesis (your medical history) and by highlighting in the blood the IgE antibodies specific for the venom of the incriminated species.
In addition, immediately or at a maximum of 2-3 hours after the anaphylaxis picture, tryptase can be dosed in the blood, which is an enzyme in the serum, and in case of a late reaction “serum disease” can also be dosed in the serum, fractions of complement and circulating immune complexes.
How to prevent allergies to bee and wasp venom
- Avoid walking barefoot through the grass.
- When hiking, avoid brightly colored or floral prints and perfumes.
- When eating out, make sure there are no bees or wasps in the area.
- When driving, keep the windows closed.
- If a bee or wasp flies past you, do not shake your hands, but stay still or move away calmly.