As the spring and summer draws upon us, our chances of getting stung by a bee increases. Encouraged by the warm weather, a bee will be venturing out, possibly into your own garden, in search of pollen and nectar from flowers that it needs to survive. But before the colour drains from your face and you break out in a cold sweat, let me ease your fears a little. If you follow my advice on how to treat a bee sting, you will be as right as rain in no time.
Bees are not wasps!
Bees may look stripy and some may even look similar to the infamous, dreaded wasp, but they are very different in character. They are quite humble and peaceful little creatures and are more than happy keeping themselves to themselves. A bee most definitely won’t be hanging about your plate as you tuck into your pub lunch either like an uninvited wasp would.
That being said, they do have a sting and yes they will use it. But unlike a pestering wasp that will happily counter attack as you frantically swipe at it, usually resulting in you being stung, a bee will only usually sting if it is deliberately interfered with or accidentally injured. The only exception to this rule is if they are guarding their nest or their hive. But who wouldn’t want to defend their own home right?
Now, if you are reading this and you are a beekeeper, you may as well move onto another blog post of mine as you probably won’t glean any new information here. You may have been stung a zillion times, know what to do and have got the T-shirt to prove it. But i’d love for you to stay anyway. For the rest of us, it will come as no surprise that the most likely casualty of a bee sting is that of a curious child or an excited dog that wants to play with anything that moves. One moment it’s all playful giggles and laughter in the garden then suddenly it turns into ear splitting shrieks and tears. Yep, it’s that time again to treat a bee sting.
Here’s how to treat a bee sting
Don’t panic and stay calm
For most people, the main trauma of being stung eases once the initial searing pain subsides. If you are stung near a bees nest or hive, calmly walk away to a safe distance so to not risk agitating the bees any further.
Remove the stinger
The big fluffy bumblebees in your garden can in theory sting you multiple times as they have a smooth stinger. They can retract this from the skin after the first sting and deliver it again. But they are solitary creatures and very docile, so it is unlikely they will sting more than once. They get to fly off and live another day.
A honey bee has a barbed sting. This means once it stings you, the barbed sting will stay attached in your skin along with the venom sack that will continue pumping the venom. For the honey bee it’s a one shot deal, and it will fly off and die shortly afterwards.
It’s important to remove the sting as soon as possible to minimise the amount of venom pumped into you. This is best done by scraping away the sting sideways with either your fingernail or a credit card. Do not use tweezers or pinch away with your fingers as this will squeeze the remaining venom from the sack into your skin.
Clean the sting wound
Use soap and water to clean the wound. This will prevent any unlikely risk of an infection.
Use an ice pack
Or a good old bag of frozen peas wrapped in a towel will do. Press it against the stung area for about 10 minutes. This will help deal with any swelling. If the swelling begins to travel to other areas such as your neck or face, go to your nearest A&E department as you may be suffering from an allergic reaction. Other symptoms that may suggest an allergic reaction could be difficulty breathing, dizziness or nausea.
Raise or elevate the area
If your arm or leg has been stung, you could keep it elevated if possible. This will help to reduce the swelling.
Consider pain relief
Bee stings are intended to be painful and they certainly are. A key component in the venom is a chemical called melittin, this causes the burning sensation we all feel when stung. Ibuprofen can deal with the discomfort. Always read the label and stick to the correct dose. I’d avoid the traditional home remedies such as applying vinegar or bicarbonate of soda. They have made no difference for me in the past.
Forgive and forget
It’s easy to take a disliking to something that causes us harm. But just remember, bees will not go out of their way to hurt us. Don’t let a one off occurrence, which was probably an accident anyway, scare us for life. And also remember it didn’t end too well for the bee either. The next time you see a bee joyfully buzzing around a flower, take a moment to appreciate the evolution and the effort by nature to give that bee something so potent in such a small package. Bees have a job to do on our planet and they do it remarkably. Become a fan!
Although severe allergic reactions to bees stings are quite rare, it makes sense to keep an eye on who has been stung, especially if it is a child. Just use some common sense, you know your child best. If something does not seem right, seek urgent medical attention.