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What is a bee sting?

A bee sting, which simply means a sting by a bee, can be extremely troublesome. Bee stings hurt more than other insect stings because they are acidic, and hence the body reacts differently to them.

If a person stung by a bee has had allergic reactions to bee stings in the past, it can become potentially life-threatening.

What are its main signs and symptoms?

A bee sting can produce a different reaction in each person or even different reactions in the same person in different situations. The reactions are broadly categorised as mild, moderate and severe.

  • Mild reactions resolve in less than a day.
    • Burning sensation and pain at the sting site
    • Redness and slight swelling
  • Moderate reactions take about a week to subside.
    • Swelling which gradually grows in size
    • Persistent redness for a few days
  • Severe reactions called anaphylactic reactions can be fatal and are considered a medical emergency, requiring immediate treatment.

What are its main causes?

  • When a person is stung by a bee, its stinger releases venom into the skin. This causes pain and swelling.
  • People living in areas around bee hives or those working with bees are more susceptible to a bee sting.
  • An individual who has been stung by a bee in the past is at higher risk of a more severe reaction.

How is it diagnosed and treated?

  • If you get stung by a bee, tests are advised to check if you are allergic to bee venom. The tests include:
    • A blood test to check for levels of certain antibodies called IgE antibodies.
    • A skin patch test, in which a small amount of venom is injected to see if you develop a reaction.
  • For stings in which there is a mild reaction, it is important to remove the stinger to reduce the venom in the body and then apply a topical steroid cream. Antihistamines can also be used, along with cold compresses.
  • In more severe cases, immediate treatment is required for anaphylaxis, which includes epinephrine injection, supplemental oxygen and intravenous fluid administration. Anaphylaxis is considered a medical emergency, and immediate treatment should be sought.
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References

  1. Journal of allergy and clinical immunology. Allergy in its relation to bee sting. American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. [internet].
  2. Better health channel. Department of Health and Human Services [internet]. State government of Victoria; Bites and stings
  3. United States Department of Agriculture. Bee Stings / Safety. National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference Legacy Release; Agricultural Research Service
  4. William W. Busse, MD; Charles E. Reed, MD; Lawrence M. Lichtenstein. Immunotherapy in Bee-Sting Anaphylaxis. JAMA. 1975;231(11):1154-1156. doi:10.1001/jama.1975.03240230028014
  5. MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia: US National Library of Medicine; Bee sting
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