Thursday, September 9, 2010

Ow... Part 2

So… you just got stung.

And it hurts. It’s important to remember that it’s SUPPOSED to hurt and not freak out. In part one, I talked a little bit about how stings come with the territory and how, eventually, you’ll come to accept it and lose your fear. Today, I’m going to tell you a bit about what may happen to you when you are stung- what falls in the wide range of normal reactions, and what doesn’t.

A common first reaction.  You won't be this person for long.
Illustration by ???

The vast majority of people will feel the sting first as a needle of pain at the sting site. Personally, I compare it to a hard pinch, and I think that the actual pain lasts about as long. It really isn’t anything to be afraid of. Once you get over your initial distress and get back to work, chances are you’ll forget about the sting and it’ll stop hurting on its own. I haven’t gotten to the point where I don’t even register it, like some veteran beekeepers, but it doesn’t make me jump the way it used to either. For most, that initial ‘pinch’ is immediately (minutes) followed by any combination of these symptoms.
-Burning/Itching sensation (try calamine lotion)
-Redness (try ice)
-A raised white ‘wheal’ around the sting site (ice again)
-Tenderness to touch (Tylenol to reduce inflammation and Benadryl are both good choices)
-Localized swelling (if you get stung on the finger, remember to take off any rings ASAP)

I already showed you the picture of my thumb after I was stung on Labor Day in Ow…. That particular sting resulted in some impressive but localized swelling, redness and tenderness to the touch. The swelling is gone after a day and a half, but there is still a little red mark where I was stung. As bad as it looked, it didn’t hurt and was very temporary. For me, it was more of a reaction than I’m used to, but it was in no way out of the ordinary and stings like this are easily treated. I use ice packs and Benadryl and find it very effective, but there are many folk remedies, running the gamut from chewed up tobacco leaves to freshly cut onions. Another sting I got on my other hand didn’t swell or have any other adverse reaction.

All things will pass, including pain and swelling.

Up to 17% of people experience a ‘large local reaction’, or massive swelling extending further than 10cm from the sting site that develops within 24-72 hours. Since the swelling radiates from the sting site, this is still considered a local, non allergic reaction. If you happen to experience a reaction like this, don’t panic. Grab a towel and put some ice in it to help reduce the swelling, and take a few Benadryl. For most people, the swelling will go away on its own in a few days, but if you’re nervous, it’s okay to go to a doctor. I won’t judge. Promise.

About 1% of the population suffers from a true, or systemic, allergy to bee stings. This type of reaction is always characterized by symptoms that are not localized to the sting site. If you were stung on your leg and have developed a rash on your arm, you’re suffering from a systemic reaction. Symptoms of a true allergy can vary from a rash, to respiratory distress, shock, or worse. Although they are extremely rare, allergic reactions to bee stings should always be taken seriously. If you suspect that you might be suffering from a systemic allergic reaction, you still shouldn’t panic, but you SHOULD seek immediate medical attention. Talk to your doctor or allergist and discuss your options. The treatment of allergies has advanced hugely in the last decade, and with the right treatment and a bit of caution, you may be able to reduce your sensitivity almost completely.

The bees are worth the trouble.

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