Word on Health

Word on Bee, Wasp & Hornet Sting Allergies

Our grateful thanks to Anaphylaxis UK and drhelenallergy.co.uk. You can hear our radio report again via the audio player at the bottom of this page.  The information below is from the Anaphylaxis UK website which you can reach by clicking here

Bee & Wasp Venom Allergies.  Anyone stung by a bee or wasp is likely to suffer a painful swelling at the site of the sting, and for most people, this isn’t dangerous. But for people with an allergy to bee or wasp venom, the reaction can be systemic – meaning it affects the whole body. Systemic allergic reactions can be serious and lead to potentially life-threatening anaphylaxis.

The thought of being stung can be very frightening, especially if you know you’re at risk of anaphylaxis. 

Who is at risk?  You are more at risk of serious allergic reactions to insect stings if you have frequent or multiple stings. Beekeepers and people with a rare condition called mastocytosis are more at risk of having serious sting reactions.

People who have other allergies, such as hay fever or food allergies, are not at increased risk of having a serious allergic reaction to an insect sting.

If you are allergic to insect stings, you can still enjoy the great outdoors by seeking medical advice, carrying prescribed medication at all times, and taking precautions to avoid being stung.

Concerned you may have a wasp or bee sting allergy?  If you’re worried that you may be allergic to the stings of bees and wasps, there are a number of options:

  • Talk to your GP - Explain to your doctor why you are worried and any symptoms you may have experienced as a result of a wasp or bee sting. They will be able to offer advice and, if appropriate, refer you to an allergy clinic for tests and specialist treatments.
  • Risk avoidance - Reducing the chances of wasps and bees bothering you reduces the chances of being stung. Try to avoid the things that attract them such as sugary food and drink, bright clothing and some perfumes found in hairsprays and other cosmetics.
  • Adrenaline auto-injectors (AAI) - Anyone prescribed adrenaline auto-injectors must carry two AAIs on them at all times.

What is anaphylaxis?  Anaphylaxis is a serious allergic reaction that affects the whole body and can be life-threatening, so it always needs emergency treatment.

Reactions usually begin within minutes and progress quickly, but can sometimes start two to three hours after you’re exposed to the allergen.

If you are diagnosed with a serious allergy and are at higher risk of anaphylaxis, your doctor may prescribe adrenaline auto-injectors to use in an emergency.

What causes anaphylaxis?  The most common allergens that can cause anaphylaxis are foods such as peanuts, tree nuts, milk, eggs, shellfish, fish and sesame seeds, although many other foods have been known to trigger it. Some people react even to tiny amounts of food.

Other causes include wasp or bee stings, latex (natural rubber latex) and medicines. In some people, exercise can trigger anaphylaxis – either on its own or if you exercise around the same time you’re exposed to other allergens.

Sometimes people have a reaction and the cause can’t be found. This is called ‘idiopathic anaphylaxis’, which means the cause is unknown.

Why does anaphylaxis happen? An allergic reaction (including anaphylaxis) happens when the body’s immune system wrongly identifies a food or substance as a threat. When this happens, the body releases chemicals such as histamine in response. It is the release of these chemicals that causes the allergic symptoms.

What are the signs and symptoms of anaphylaxis?  Most healthcare professionals consider an allergic reaction to be anaphylaxis when it involves difficulty breathing or affects the heart rhythm or blood pressure. Any one or more of the following symptoms may be present – these are often referred to as the ‘ABC’ symptoms.

In extreme cases there could be a dramatic fall in blood pressure. The person may become weak and floppy and may have a sense of something terrible happening. Any of the ABC symptoms may lead to collapse and unconsciousness and, on rare occasions, can be fatal.

  • Consciousness/Circulation - Dizziness, feeling faint, sudden sleepiness, tiredness, confusion, pale clammy skin, loss of consciousness. 
  • Airway- Swelling in the throat, tongue or upper airways (tightening of the throat, hoarse voice, difficulty swallowing).
  • Breathing - Sudden onset wheezing, breathing difficulty, noisy breathing.

Other symptoms that might be present include:

  • a red raised rash (known as hives or urticaria) anywhere on the body
  • a tingling or itchy feeling in the mouth
  • swelling of lips, face or eyes
  • stomach pain or vomiting.

These symptoms can also happen on their own. 

If you don’t have the ABC symptoms, the reaction is likely to be less serious and is not the same as anaphylaxis, but watch carefully in case ABC symptoms develop.

Treating symptoms. If you are at higher risk of anaphylaxis, you may be prescribed adrenaline to use in an emergency.

Adrenaline comes in pre-loaded adrenaline auto-injectors (AAIs) that are designed to be easy to use. Make sure you know how and when to use them. Ask your healthcare professional to show you how to use your specific brand of AAI. You can also find help and training videos on the manufacturer’s website where you can get a free trainer device to practise with

You must carry two AAIs with you at all times, as you may need to use a second one if your symptoms don’t improve after five minutes or get worse.

Listen to this weeks radio report

All material on this website is provided for your information only and may not be construed as medical advice or instruction. No action or inaction should be taken based solely on the contents of this information; instead, readers should consult appropriate health professionals on any matter relating to their health and well-being.