stings

A beekeeper’s brush with disaster

It pays to expect the unexpected. Even those of us who have never experienced an allergic reaction can suddenly face serious trouble.

Steve Weeks, a ten-year beekeeper in North Vancouver, BC, Canada, sent me the following account of his allergic reaction to a beekeeper-normal number of stings. He was lucky. With help from his wife, emergency services, and competent doctors, Steve is home, healthy, and hoping to share a few words of caution. 

The following narrative has been slightly edited for clarity and style. The image above is the swarm Steve was collecting when the incident occurred.


Steve’s story

I have been a beekeeper for about 10 years, small-time, only 2-5 hives, but I love every minute of it.… Recently, I had an experience that I thought was worth sharing because it almost killed me. By sharing it publicly, maybe we can help save someone else’s life. Here is my story:

Over the years of beekeeping, we all get stung from time to time. I am no different. Sometimes I go through the whole season without a sting, but usually, I get the odd one or two. The most I can recall getting in a single outing was three, all on my chin through the veil. Like most people, I get a small bump. Sometimes it swells in the local area, but that’s about it until everything changed on June 17, 2022.

Stings from a swarm in a tree

One of my larger hives swarmed and settled in a tree in my own yard. It was a large swarm of about 25,000–35,000 bees. I decided to let them settle out for an hour or so, using the time to get out my ladder, a new hive box, and everything else I would need. I captured about 15 swarms prior to this one, so I was comfortable with what needed to be done. The one tricky part: they were 16 feet up and I was on my own.

I climbed the ladder and positioned my catch basin. As I reached up to grab the branch and give it a good shake, my sleeve got snagged, opening a gap at the wrist. When I shook the branch, several bees ended up in my arm area and I received multiple stings (about eight). Yikes, that was a bit unexpected, but I proceeded to carry out the job I had started, eventually climbing down the ladder with the box of bees. I set the bees down and put a lid on so I could head into the house and scrape off the embedded stingers.

I could not read the instructions

A couple of minutes later, I was back in the yard and working to re-hive the bees. During this process, I started to notice my scalp and feet getting unbearably itchy and was starting to feel a little odd. I worked quickly to close up the new hive before going back into the house. After removing my bee suit, I headed upstairs, wondering if I was having an allergic reaction. As a safety protocol, I keep an EpiPen in the house in case someone who came visiting turned out to be allergic. Thinking I might need it, I retrieved it along with a Benadryl tablet and sat down to read the instructions, which I had not reviewed for some time. 

I could not read the instructions; my vision was being affected and even when I could read them, I could not make sense of them. By this time, my left arm where the stings were concentrated was going numb and my hand started to shake uncontrollably. I decided to head into the kitchen where there was a magnifying glass to help me read the instructions. The next thing I remember was waking up on the kitchen floor. I do not know how I got there, but I was drenched in sweat and feeling nauseous. I got myself up and threw up in the sink multiple times. Now I knew I was in trouble. 

An expired EpiPen

I took the Benadryl tablet with a glass of water and sat down to call my wife. Fortunately, she answered her phone right away. She could tell immediately from my voice that something was very wrong and asked me what happened. I said I had been stung several times and needed help. She said, “I am on my way,” and hung up the phone. Within a few minutes, I could hear the sirens of fire trucks and ambulances. 

The firefighters arrived first and started taking my vitals. They told me they could not administer the EpiPen but could talk me through it. Because my EpiPen had expired, we decide to wait a few more minutes for the paramedics, who were pulling up now with my wife right behind them. 

Low BP and 3 hits of epinephrine

The paramedics gave me a shot of 0.3 mg of epinephrine (AKA adrenalin). They asked me a bunch of questions, I do not remember what, and they took my vitals. My blood pressure was extremely low at 80 over 52, so they loaded me into the ambulance and took me to the hospital. On the way, they decided I needed more epinephrine so gave me 0.5 mg more. All told, I had almost the equivalent of three EpiPens.

When we arrived, I was rushed straight into the resuscitation section, where they take the heart attack victims. Three vials of blood were drawn, warm blankets were put on, and I was hooked up to oxygen and blood pressure monitors. A short time later, someone from the cardiology department came in and hooked me up to another machine to monitor my heart as they were concerned about the pains in my chest (for the record, I do not have any heart problems). Satisfied that my heart was okay, he disconnected me from the mobile equipment and left. 

Benadryl, an IV, and a lifetime of EpiPens

I was visited by the ER doctor multiple times to check on my progress. On his last visit, he gave me a prescription for two EpiPens which he said I would now need to carry with me everywhere I go, and a referral to an allergist for further testing.

I was kept in the ER for about 4.5 hours. Apparently, there is a strong possibility that a second allergic reaction can occur within 3–4 hours of the original attack. I was given another Benadryl and an IV was set up to deliver some steroids which would provide additional protection for several more hours. 

Is beekeeping in my future?

It was a harrowing experience; I could have died. I have never been allergic to anything in my entire life, but apparently, that can change without warning. In the future, it is possible that a single sting could trigger the same reaction in me.

Sadly, my beekeeping days may be over, which for me is an extremely sad prospect as I enjoy it so much. I have been looking forward to expanding the apiary when I eventually retired from working, and helping teach others interested in learning about bees. Hopefully, the allergist can give me some options that will allow me to continue with the hobby that I love so much.

The take-home messages

However, on a more positive note, I am alive and that is good news for me and my family. I share this story in the hope that other beekeepers will at the very least get a couple of EpiPens and read the instructions until they know exactly what to do without thinking, because frankly, you cannot think when you are in this situation. And even if you are convinced you won’t need it, have it there in case someone else does. You never know, it might save your life or that of someone you love.

A word of caution: If you ever need to use an EpiPen, you still need to go to the hospital even if you feel better after taking it. The EpiPen simply buys you time to get to the hospital. There is a strong possibility of a second event, especially in the first 3–4 hours, and that can also kill you.

How and when to use an EpiPen: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lt3KGLyJ4PU

Steve was collecting this enormous swarm from a cedar tree when he was stung 8 times on the wrist. The stings caused his first allergic reaction and a trip to the ER. Photo by Steve Weeks.
Steve was collecting this enormous swarm from a cedar tree when he was stung 8 times on the wrist. The stings caused his first allergic reaction and a trip to the ER. Photo by Steve Weeks.

54 Comments

  • Excellent post, Rusty! Glad Steve made it through. I too have read enough first person accounts of beekeepers who had little or no reaction to stings over the years…until one day, this happened to them. My bee kit has all my expired and my fresh Epipen (2 fresh ones per year for the reason Steve outlined), a bottle of liquid benadryl and that charged cell phone. I also know one new beekeeper who kept to themselves the fact that each time they got a sting, the reaction was a little worse. By the end of their second summer in the bees a single sting put them into full anaphylactic shock. They were lucky to survive that final sting. Be careful folks!

    • Hi Janet,

      I like the idea of keeping EpiPens and other emergency equipment in your bee kit. Excellent strategy!

  • Steve,
    Wow! Glad you’re ok. I fit your description exactly: 2-4 hives, 12 years experience, 10 year old epi-pens stashed somewhere.
    Should we also have pediatric dosed epi-pens?

    Daniel

    • According to my allergist, it isn’t dangerous to use the wrong dosage EpiPen, it will just lead to more unpleasant side effects like nausea and shaking. The Dr said it’s better to use it than not. This was after my >1yo baby had a severe allergic reaction and I didn’t use the EpiPen on hand because I didn’t know if the dosage would hurt him. Baby was fine in the long run but next time I will use the EpiPen.

  • Steve,

    Thank you for your clear description of your near disaster with your bees. I am quite certain that there will be a lot of beekeepers who will be most interested in your account.

    I have commented on bee sting allergies before on Rusty’s excellent site. Briefly, I live in France and within a year of starting beekeeping, I had two bad reactions to bee stings. The reactions in both cases were following a sting and other parts of my body would swell up. (Stung on my ankle and my lips became swollen and big red welts on my chest). My Dr had me tested. The measurement here in France is called kU/L. I measured 18 out of a max of 20. I went through 5 years of monthly injections of bee venom. I carried an EpiPen all the time. Eleven plus years later my kU/L count is at 4/20. When I get stung now I hardly notice any swelling at all and it goes in 45 minutes. I get stung quite often but usually only 1 or two at a time (often on my chin through my visor). I am sure that 8 or more stings are way more serious than one or two.

    I would be most interested to know what your doctors think happened. You touch on an allergic reaction. I have always understood that the definition of that is swellings at another part of the body from the actual sting. Your reaction to multiple stings appears to be quite different.

    Beekeepers are passionate (to say the least) about their beekeeping. I would hate for you to have to give up. After my first injection of the desensitization program there was a massive reduction in any swelling. Obviously, any program must be under strict doctor supervision.

    I have tried to be brief but would welcome any questions if anyone has any.

    My heart goes out to you, Steve, and I hope a solution can be found to keep going with your passion, I am sure there are many of us who will wish you very good luck.

    Michael

  • Just to point out that, in the UK, you cannot get an Epipen without a doctor’s prescription, and they will not give you that unless you have had an allergic reaction!

      • Maybe my doc is going at this a different way. I explained to her that I kept bees and would like a script for an EpiPen as a just in case I needed it. She was more than happy to call in that script. Neither did I have to have a severe allergic reaction first either. Kind of strange when you think about it, the first time you have an allergic reaction might just be the time you need the EpiPen to get it under control while you get to hospital. Seems it might be more prudent to play the better safe than sorry game on this one.

      • It depends a little on your relationship with your doc. Mine was great, she ended up buying honey from me! When I told her I was getting into beekeeping 10 years ago, she asked me if I’d like to have a script for the epi. I said “sure”, but when I went to fill it, they were $400 so I passed, as I hadn’t had a serious reaction in previous years. I carry about 10-15 colonies, but am not the “gentlest” beek when I’m inspecting…get in, get out move on. In practice, I get stung easily 75 to 100 times a year. When I started, I had regional swelling, but it got less and less to now, I don’t get a bump at all. I don’t know that I’m unique, but respect others when they take the extra precautions…you just never know when the tide will turn against you. He sounds pretty lucky to have got through it.

      • It can be considered preventative so you just tell your doctor you need a prescription for epinephrine injector and they’ll usually just give it to you, no questions asked. It’s not like it’s an opioid. Nobody is going to want to stab themselves with one of those for fun- just makes you feel shaky and nauseous.

  • This is scary and has prompted me to ask my doc for a new script. I have not had a sting in years and I basically stopped reacting to them. But as was pointed out, allergies can develop at any time. I never was allergic to poison ivy until I was and then it almost put me into the hospital the reaction was so bad. Sometimes I think we lose sight of the fact that we are dealing with stinging insects that can, and do, take us down some very dark paths sometimes regardless of how delightful and interesting they are otherwise. If Steve decides to give up the actual keeping of bees I hope that he seriously considers becoming a teacher. His knowledge, experience, and wisdom are invaluable and it would be such a loss for him and others for him not to be able to participate somehow. Sometimes the sidelines aren’t as much fun as playing the game, but coaches, good ones, are invaluable. I am glad you are OK, Steve. I can’t imagine how scary this was for you and your wife. Now that I think of it, you have actually presented your first teaching lesson by sharing this experience here and like all good teachers, you have influenced our thinking and behavior as a result. And thanks to you, Rusty, for giving him a platform to share his experience. We all need to be reminded once in a while to be careful. I know I don’t think about this part very much, but I will now.

    sk

  • Good news! There’s a solution to this problem. My wife who loves to help me keep bees, also, developed an allergic reaction and had to be rushed to the hospital. We, also, considered that we would have to sell off our 19 hives and quit the hobby. However, she came across a cure for her allergic response, and we were able to continue our fun.

    She got on the internet and found out about the Rush Immunotherapy Treatment. We found an allergist who was able to implement this 3-day procedure and very soon, she was back in business. This was 3 years ago and she’s been stung several times with just the normal response. So … don’t give up the fun and look into this therapy. It worked perfectly for us.

    https://www.beeawareallergy.com/bee-stings/treatment/rush-immunotherapy/#:~:text=Rush%20venom%20immunotherapy%20is%20a,their%20patient%20must%20decide%20together.

  • I think I posted in the wrong place so re-posting.

    I have made it my practice to keep EpiPens on the property at all times. I won’t open a hive unless there is another person with me to observe. I give them the EpiPens and have them learn how to use them before I begin.

    My ‘bee buddy” (as I call them) just has to be somewhere that they can see me. They don’t have to come near the hive if they don’t feel comfortable, but some like to get closer to see inside the hive.

    It’s my personal rule and, even though it keeps me from being spontaneous, I think it’s a good one.

  • I know a number of beekeepers who have suddenly become allergic. Venom therapy is very expensive and a long process. Also, be careful if you have a dog. Our daughter’s dog stepped on some bees in the grass and had an anaphylactic reaction. This presented as vomiting and losing control of his bowels. The emergency vet fixed him up but it wasn’t cheap and now she worries he’ll come upon bees in her yard.

  • Glad Steve is OK. My wife and I started keeping bees about 10 years ago as well. She and I both got the usual few stings a year but one year she reacted very badly, although nothing near Steve’s experience. Long story short, after 5 years of needles from an allergist (at our expense, even with Canadian healthcare) she is now considered “not allergic to bees” but must always have 2 EpiPens. They cost us just over C$100 at Costco every year. But at least she can still be an active beekeeper.

    The reminder to be completely comfortable with how to use the EpiPens is a good one.

  • We can become allergic with age! I understand that by taking a series of shots, you can become non-allergic!

  • In NYS its illegal to practice medicine without a license and inject a person you think is having an allergic reaction with an EpiPen. You can give someone a heart attack and kill them with epinephrine. People can also become allergic to things like shellfish but Im pretty sure no one is carrying an EpiPen with them to the seafood restaurant. In life there are always risks.

  • I had a similar episode in my third year of beekeeping. I also was stung on my chin! I had previously had intense local reactions prior to this day. I had been working fully suited on a hot day for 3 hours when I was stung. I could tell quickly this was different and went inside. I broke out in hives on the trunk of my body, and the palms and feet turned red and itched intensely. I took a Benadryl and was better in an hour. I made an appointment with an allergist. It turns out I am only allergic to honey bees.

    I have been doing bee venom therapy for three years and hardly have a reaction when stung. I still suit up and wear gloves each time, but I am glad I can still participate in beekeeping as a hobby. My reaction was not an ER visit, but maybe you can continue safely with treatment.

    As for the chin stings, I used a tomato cage wire and threaded it through the seam in my suit; it keeps the netting off of my face even when I lean over, and I have not been stung there since!

    • What a GREAT idea re: tomato cage. Hate them chin stings. Who invented these bee suits anyway!

  • Allergies are strange things. It seems they can come and go.

    I’ve had bees for seemingly forever. I’ve had a bad reaction in the past (4 stings to the head when I was all hot and bothered and in a rush and a thunderstorm coming). You can see the bad scene – not a Zen moment for sure. A relatively high dose in a sensitive area while my metabolism was all amped up. Since then I have had a long relationship with the bees and an ongoing decline in symptoms per sting.

    But this past year out of the blue I became allergic to NSAIDS (so no more aspirin, ibuprofen, alieve). And the allergist says – this too may go away. But I am in no way going to test that out anytime soon.

    I have also heard that non-beekeeping family members of beekeepers (particularly commercial beekeepers) are at higher risk for allergic reactions. They generally avoid the bees and don’t get stung but are exposed to bee stuff via handling clothing, sitting in the beekeeper’s truck, etc. So their body has become sensitized without getting the occasional actual sting and then whammo they react poorly when they do get stung. It seems if they get stung once or twice a year this sort of thing is kept away.

    EpiPens are super expensive these days. Check out Auvi-Q as an alternative epinephrine injection system. This unit even talks you through the injection process

  • I am a beekeeper for 25 years and a retired physician. After 10 years of keeping and stings, I too had an anaphylactic reaction. I was desensitized by an allergist with gradual increases in the volume of venom. For the last 15 years every 6-8 weeks year-round I receive an injection equal to the venom of two bee stings. I take an antihistamine daily, clothe properly, and still enjoy my hobby fully. The proteins in the venom are foreign proteins; we can be exposed to them for a period of time before an adverse reaction occurs.

    • Thank you, Dr. McVay.

      I have read that eusocial stinging insects, such as honey bees, bumble bees, and some wasps, deliver similar proteins in their stings, those to which humans are sensitive. On the contrary, most solitary bee and solitary wasp venoms seldom produce allergic reactions in humans. Some people theorize the eusocial proteins could be an evolutionary adaptation to predation by mammals, something solitary bees rarely deal with.

      I don’t know any of this for a fact, but I’d like to know more. I keep asking around to learn if anyone is allergic to solitary bee stings, but so far I’ve not found any. Unfortunately, most non-beekeepers don’t know what they were stung by, so even anecdotal evidence is hard to come by.

      • Rusty, I became over-sensitive to honey bee stings so I have two EpiPens on hand. I’ve never had to use them but if I’m stung I have to take steroids and antihistamines for a few days to combat the symptoms of swelling and itchiness. Just two days ago I was stung by a common wasp. I know it was a wasp because I had to knock it off my hand and then later found the nest. It was extremely painful, much more so than a honey bee sting but I had very few residual symptoms once I managed the pain with apple cider vinegar and baking soda. I had some swelling (stung me on my little finger) and some itching but nothing compared to a honey bee sting reaction which lasts for days.

  • I would like to leave a couple of thoughts on this post. I’m now in my sixth year of keeping bees and as we all do, get an occasional sting. I have noted different reactions happening and have come up with a regimen that I follow when I’m stung. The first thing after getting the stinger out is to get some ammonia on it. Then I use a salve I have made out of plantain. If I start to feel an itch, then I’ll take a Benadryl. My reactions have decreased substantially, to where sometimes I just get a small lump that will fade after a couple of days. Sometimes, not so fast, but the reaction is much smaller than if I just left it alone. After speaking with my doctor about some of the reactions, he prescribed some Epi-pens. Additionally, my wife has had allergic reactions in her past, so those are kept in an easily accessible place just inside the door leading out to my bee yard. I have become a firm believer in the herbal route. Just my $.02 cents.

  • Steve, if you really love taking care of bees do not give up. I had a similar experience, ending up on the floor of a doctor’s waiting room after barely driving the mile to get there with tunnel vision. Had no idea of what was going on, and afterward realized that if I were to die from bee stings, I’d be passed out and not even know!

    After the emergency room visit, I went through immunotherapy, and 8 years later, a few bee stings, and still 3 hives, I am enjoying the bees, but not so much the shots I need every 12 weeks (started at every three days, but have settled where they are). What keeps me going is realizing that even if I did not keep bees, any brush with one in the wild would still be an issue if I did not do immunotherapy.

    Thank you so much for putting this out to the bee community!

    Best wishes for finding a way to keep enjoying. Please check out the options.

  • This discussion illuminates some of the differences between healthcare in the UK and the US. It sounds as though it is very easy to get a ‘script’ for an Epipen in the US, but the cost is very high, over £300? In the UK, doctors will only prescribe an Epipen if there is clear evidence of an existing severe reaction – but the cost through the NHS in England is £8.80, and in Wales, which has a Labour government, it is free.

  • Well, this was unnerving. Years ago I had an allergist explain to me that once allergic, always allergic (different issue), it doesn’t ever “go away”. Some allergies can be somewhat controlled with therapy; apparently, bee venom is in that category. Glad to see the after-story seems to be working out, and that additional options are available. I, for one, will probably explore a prophylactic Epipen prescription the next time I am in to see a doctor.

    But my most intense reaction to this story is to choose NOT to inspect my hives in the next couple of days while no one else is home. I go by them almost every day, and lots of bees are flying (and bearding! boy is it hot here). “How’s the brood? How’s the honey crop?” and other questions can wait.

  • The last year 2021 I was working the beehives at the museum where I work. I was taking the supers apart to add mite treatment. Everything was going smoothly until I began taking the last hive apart. I did not have smoke left in the smoker and the bees seemed pretty calm so I proceeded to remove the top super to add the mite treatment sticks. I suddenly noticed bees collecting on top of my shoes, I wasn’t being stung so I continued what I was doing. Then out of nowhere and in unison, the girls began stinging my ankles and moving up my legs underneath my suit. I could not do anything but complete what I was doing. I did not want to move away from the opened hive and not be able to go back and close it later. So, like a dummy, I stomped my feet trying to knock off the bees which in turn agitated them even more.

    I finished closing the hive and walked away from the bees. I could hear them following me and feel them thumping the top of my suit and arms. When I came into the enclosure several bees continued to follow but quickly ended the chase when they felt the change in air temperature and light. I disrobed the suit and went to the restroom where I counted 28 stings, some with stingers and venom pouch still pumping. I rinsed my feet and went to the kitchen for some water. The sensation was not too bad, almost like a really bad sunburn on the ankles and lower parts of my legs. Now don’t get me wrong, it was a painful burning sensation, and I thought it would pass quickly enough, oh, how wrong I was.

    Several hours had passed and it was time for me to go home. When I got home I had some Benedryl and so I took it. I sat on the couch and could feel my feet were beginning to swell and swell. I tried to get up and feel on my face. I could no longer walk and the sunburn sensation quickly changed to a thousand needles stabbing my feet. I immediately called my Blue Cross Telehealth provider and spoke to a doctor over the phone. She asked me to show her my feet and so I moved the phone so that she could see my feet. “What the heck were you doing playing with bees?” I told her I am a beekeeper, “Oh my God!, Ok!” She sent in a script for some medication and told me it was like Benedryl on steroids. Luckily a friend was able to help me to the car and drove me to the pharmacy. When I returned to my house I took the medication prescribed to me and was out in a few minutes.

    The next morning I woke up refreshed and went to get up from the bed. No sooner than my feet went down towards the floor and even after hitting the floor it was like a thousand needles again burning through my feet. So I stayed home and stayed in the bed and continued to take the meds given to me for three days. Every time I got up the pain was as if it had just happened. Three days later the swelling began to go down. Patterns of purple began to swirl around the bottom of my feet. Blood vessels that were swollen beyond limits had burst and as the swelling went away the visible purple was settling to the bottom of my feet. I had trouble for several more days and slowly my feet returned to normal and the purple faded away.

    I’m still a beekeeper, 5 hives strong, but now I wear rubber boots and tuck my suit deep inside the boot. I have not looked into an epi-pen but I guess it would be a good idea. But until then my goal is to have zero stings!!

  • I’ve written here before about my 40+ sting episode in 2014, my first year of beekeeping, which resulted in severe allergy. I’ve had the Honey Bee Venom Immunotherapy and basically just “graduated” last year. That is, I was down to a shot every six weeks, and only in the off-season when I wasn’t getting “natural exposure,” and my allergist and I decided it was time I could go off the treatments. I’ve had stings this year and so far, so good.

    Two things I wanted to say here. The main difference between Steve’s ER experience and mine is that apparently, his ER doc gave him a referral to an allergist, which no one in my ER even mentioned such a thing to me, which I think was a criminal oversight. I had to figure out on my own that I needed to see an allergist.

    And second, I am so thankful I have good health insurance because the Bee Venom Immunotherapy involved multiple shots a week for a coupla weeks, a shot a week for months, gradually reducing to a shot every six weeks. And if my health insurance hadn’t covered all that I might have had to decide I couldn’t afford the risk of keeping bees. It is sad in this country that we have to juggle our medical needs and our groceries and our mortgage/rent, and that one’s entire happiness in life can depend on the quality of one’s health insurance.

  • This thread prompted me to replace my ‘Just-in-cases’ 10-year-old EpiPens.

    I have a cheap Medicare Plan D Drug plan (Elixir plus), and I called Bartell/Rite Aid for a price: 2 pack, 0.3mg, at about $350. I did a brief internet search and signed up for the free GoodRx account. They provide discount coupons and give you price comparisons. They ranged from $690 for one 2-pack at Fred Meyers!, to $140 at RiteAid, to $110 at CVS. Since there is no CVS in Hood River (where we are this week), I got this at RiteAid. Bought two boxes of 2 each, plus one box of EPIPEN Jr. (0.15 mg). $435 total.

    (Disclaimer: being a physician, I called in my own Rx 😬. They accepted the coupon info over the phone recorded message, didn’t have to show the text message coupon.)

    Our plan is to store them outside, in the shade, with a sign, at both sites where we keep bees.

    Thanks to Steve, the OP, for motivating us. You may have saved more than just your life. 🙏🏼

  • I have been avidly reading the excellent and thoughtful comments following Steve’s post.

    It appears to me there is a big difference between aspects of what people are generally discussing here. On one hand, there is a possible allergic reaction. On the other hand, there is a reaction of a multiple sting situation which has quite different effects.

    To me, the difference is one, swelling and welts in another part of the body to the actual sting, and two, vomiting, fainting, collapsing, tunnel vision, etc. following a multiple sting situation.

    My question may be simple and probably for a doctor or a specialist to respond to. The people who react in my second case never seem to specify any swellings, welts etc in other parts of the body, they just feel very sick and often collapse.

    I would hope that we can find out why there seems to be such a different reaction between one type of situation and another.
    Good luck to all beekeepers and especially Steve. Hope someone can find an answer so we all can continue with our passion.

    Michael

    • Michael, those aren’t really two separate things. The allergic reaction, as distinct from the normal local reaction (normal because bee venom is a toxin–you don’t need to be allergic to react to a toxin) is ANYTHING beyond the normal local reaction. That could be welts on a distant part of the body, or it could be vomiting, collapsing, not breathing, plummeting blood pressure, anything like that. (Have you heard the expression “bowels turned to water”? ‘Cause that’s not just an expression!) : (

      The multiple stings situation is just a very good way to become allergic quickly. My allergist said there was a very good chance I wasn’t naturally allergic and the multiple stings just brought that on. Also, after the 40+ sting incident, and before I figured out I needed an allergist, single stings had me sinking to the ground in the beeyard and going in and out of consciousness, whereas before the 40+ stings happened I only had a normal local reaction to one or two or three stings.

  • Thank you for the post. My hubby had a similar experience. Each sting builds up for a stronger reaction that can be fatal. He has gone for bee shots. A real commitment in itself, but it allows him to continue. Once again thank you — this is a reminder to replace outdated EpiPens.

  • When one has a sting on their hand, it swells, there is discomfort, that is a normal reaction. When one has a sting in one place and there is/are reactions elsewhere in the body, that is anaphylaxis and immediate medical care is indicated.

  • Our daughter years ago was allergic to bees. This was before we got into honey bees. We had just started with homeopathic remedies. Found that Apis was the one for any kind of insect bite. After about 4 months of taking the remedies, our daughter only got a small bump from a sting.

    Our first course of action is Apis tablets and salve.

    Thanks for the mention of plantain salve. My wife just made up a batch of it.

      • Hi Rusty, Don here.

        Here is a recipe that I was given for the plantain salve I have made in the past. Last time I made any I doubled up the ingredients in order to have enough to give to family and friends. It has been quite a hit.

        3/4 -1 cup of dried plantain leaves (washed and dried)
        4 oz coconut oil (or grapeseed oil)
        ½ -1 oz Beeswax (pellets or shaved)

        Basically, infuse the plantain into the carrier oil, melt in shaved beeswax, and pour into metal tins. I get my tins from Hobby Lobby. You can also pour it into small canning jars. Smear some on to bee stings and bug bites.

        Lastly, I recently expanded on the original recipe by adding some dried Red Clover and dried Self-heal (approximately a quarter cup of each) to the plantain infusion. Putting all into a trimmed-down nylon stocking and infusing it in the coconut oil in a small crock pot I found at the local Goodwill store. Plan on bumping up the oil and beeswax a little if you do this. Set it on high for a couple of minutes to bring the temperature up, then low for about six hours or so.

        • Don,

          Thank you! I will write a short post on it so others can easily find it. Sounds great, and a good use of plantain.

  • Randy Oliver at Scientific Beekeeping claims that if you get stung once or twice a year you are more likely to develop an allergy but if you get stung a dozen or more times a year you develop immunity. Don’t know if that is true or not. Has anyone else heard of this. If so, what is your opinion? I got stung well over a dozen times my first year… Now in my second year. Had 4 stings so far this year.

    • Tim,

      I’ve never heard of an exact number of stings having any influence. Humans are all genetically different and individual bees are different, too. I think relying on numbers would be foolish.

  • Hello, Beekeepers!

    Been doing this for 35 years, my record for stings is 27 at one time! No reaction other than ouch, red, itchy as heck…
    (Was taking off honey supers, an old bee suit ripped down the main zipper. I had shorts and a tee underneath… my partner kept count as I finished the sticky work!)

    Took some Benadril and put on damp baking soda all over my belly… that was a close one!

    ** Buy a better bee suit, use tape at the cuffs if you have to… best of luck!

    • Rhonda,

      My one-time sting record is 22. I dropped a full brood box that I should never have tried to lift. All the stings landed on my ankles between the elastic of my bee suit and the tops of my shoes. Now I wear boots.

  • One thing I would suggest is getting the stingers out as soon as possible, especially in a multi-sting event. I get large local reactions pretty consistently and I’ve noticed that if I’m stung through the suit, I rarely have a reaction. My theory is that a quick-twitch (from the pain of the sting) will often pull the suit fabric away from my body and the stinger with it. Less time in you, less venom pumped in.

    This year, I’ve also had fewer stings through a change in suit and how I wear my gloves. I used to have a lightweight canvas suit and would wear my gloves over the suit arms. I could and did get stung through the suit if the fabric happened to be pressed against my skin when a girl stung me. The area where the elastic band of the gloves pressed against my upper arm was a prime place for that. I now have a Guardian bee suit https://guardianbeeapparel.com (thanks for the recommendation Rusty!) and all those layers of mesh seem to be too thick for a stinger to fully penetrate. The wristbands of the suit are snug enough that I can wear my gloves (which also use layers of mesh on the arms) under the suit. So far this year, I’ve only gotten stung when I lent my new suit to someone else and used the old canvas one while collecting a swarm.

    When the elastic on the suit wrists wears out, I’ll definitely put new elastic in! Basic sewing skills for the win! I also second the suggestions to wear boots. I use high lace-up boots with the suit legs pulled over the tops and velcroed snug – never gotten a sting on the ankles.

  • Excellent posts! I found a way to get little swelling from a sting. After a sting, I immediately suck out the venom (and spit it out) if I can reach the spot. If not, I hope my wife is nearby. If I do this immediately, I seem to get most of the venom out and get no swelling or symptoms at all. Happy beekeeping!

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