Bee Sting Allergy: Symptoms of Anaphylaxis

Written by Robin Madell | Published on September 19, 2014
Medically Reviewed by George T. Krucik, MD, MBA on September 19, 2014

Beware the Bee

Getting stung by a bee is unpleasant for everyone. But some people have an extreme allergic reaction to bee stings called anaphylaxis.

If you are among three percent of the population who are allergic to bee stings, the symptoms from even minor stings can be severe and potentially life-threatening.

It’s smart to know how to recognize the symptoms of anaphylaxis so that you can act fast if you or a loved one has a bee sting allergy.

What Happens in Anaphylaxis?

While some allergies are just a nuisance, other allergic reactions are more dangerous.

Anaphylaxis is a reaction of your entire body to something that you’re allergic to. It can be caused by the venom in a bee sting or other insect bites, as well as by allergies to certain medicines, foods, or even substances like latex.

In anaphylaxis, your immune system releases chemicals that make you experience allergy symptoms throughout your body.

Because of the severity of these symptoms, something as small as a bee sting can become fatal without proper treatment.

Specific Symptoms

If you develop anaphylaxis, you may notice a wide range of symptoms and warning signs. These symptoms usually affect several different parts of your body at once.

Symptoms of the condition include:

  • an itchy red rash (may include hives)
  • swelling in your throat or other body parts, such as eyes or face
  • hoarseness or wheezing
  • difficulty breathing and swallowing
  • vomiting or diarrhea
  • a tight feeling in your chest
  • fainting

Other Warning Signs

Anaphylaxis causes your tissues to release substances that can cause your airways to constrict. This can cause a number of additional symptoms such as:

  • paleness or redness in your face or other body parts
  • congestion in your nose or chest
  • a feeling of anxiety, dread, or panic
  • slurred speech
  • dizziness
  • stomach pain
  • heart palpitations
  • abnormal sounds when you breathe (often high pitched)

How Fast Does It Happen?

In most cases, your body will produce allergic symptoms to a bee sting quite quickly if you have anaphylaxis.

You might feel symptoms just minutes after being stung. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) states that symptoms may appear within seconds of a sting.

It’s possible, though, that your symptoms will take more time to surface. It can take 30 minutes or even longer to notice the condition’s symptoms.

Preventing Symptoms

Because the symptoms of anaphylaxis can be severe and even life-threatening, it’s best to do what you can to avoid them.

If you’ve had serious allergic reactions to bee stings or other allergens in the past, you should keep emergency medications on hand.

Your doctor can prescribe injectable epinephrine, also known as adrenaline, or a chewable medicine called diphenhydramine, which is an antihistamine.

You might also carry a bee sting kit when you go on outdoor outings. And always wear a medical identification tag so that others will know about your condition.

Complicating Symptoms

Without proper treatment, anaphylaxis can quickly turn deadly. It can result in:

  • a blocked airway that prevents breathing
  • heart failure through cardiac arrest
  • respiratory problems that stop your breathing
  • going unconscious or into shock

Fortunately, with the right treatment, anaphylaxis symptoms usually improve.

Call 911

If you or a loved one experiences any of the symptoms above after a bee sting, it’s important to seek emergency help right away. Call 911.

If you are with someone who shows signs of anaphylaxis, remain calm. Scrape the bee stinger off of the sting site with a firm object like a fingernail. Avoid squeezing the stinger since this can cause more venom to enter the body.

To help prevent shock while waiting for emergency help, lay the person flat on the ground. Place their feet about one foot off of the ground. Your quick and calm actions can help save a life.

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