Bee poisoning refers to a serious body reaction to the venom from a bee sting. Wasps and yellow jackets sting with the same venom, and can cause the same body reaction.
Usually, bee stings do not cause a serious reaction. However, if you are allergic to bee stings or have had several bee stings, you may experience a severe reaction (poisoning). Bee poisoning requires immediate medical attention.
Bee poisoning may also be called apitoxin poisoning or apis virus poisoning; apitoxin and apis virus are the technical names for bee venom.
Certain individuals are at a higher risk for bee poisoning than others. Risk factors for bee poisoning include:
- living in an area near active beehives
- living in an area where bees are actively pollinating plants
- spending lots of time outside
- having had a previous allergic reaction to a bee sting
- taking certain medications, such as beta blockers
According to the Mayo Clinic, adults are more likely to suffer serious reactions to bee stings than children (Mayo Clinic).
If you have a known allergy to bee, wasp, or yellow jacket venom, you should carry a bee sting kit with you when you’re spending time outdoors. This contains a medication called epinephrine, which treats anaphylaxis—a severe allergic reaction that could make breathing difficult.
Mild symptoms of a bee sting include:
- pain or itching at the site of the sting
- a white spot where the stinger punctured the skin
- redness and slight swelling around the sting
Symptoms of bee poisoning include:
Most people who have been stung by a bee do not require medical attention. Monitor any minor symptoms, such as mild swelling and itching. If they do not go away in a few days or if you begin to experience more severe symptoms, call your doctor.
If you’re experiencing symptoms of anaphylaxis, such as trouble breathing or difficulty swallowing, call 911. You should also seek medical help if you have a known allergy to bee stings or if you have had multiple bee stings.
When you call 911, the operator will ask for your age, weight, and symptoms. It is also helpful to know the type of bee that stung you and when the sting occurred.
Treatment for a bee sting involves removing the stinger and caring for any symptoms. Treatment techniques include:
- removing the stinger using a credit card or tweezers (avoid squeezing the attached venom sac)
- cleaning the area with soap and water
- applying ice to ease pain and swelling
- applying creams, such as hydrocortisone, which reduce redness and itching
- taking an antihistamine, such as Benadryl, for any itching and swelling
If someone you know is experiencing an allergic reaction, immediately call 9-1-1. While waiting for paramedics to arrive, you can:
- check the individual’s airways and breathing
- begin cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) if necessary
- reassure the individual that help is coming
- remove constricting clothing and any jewelry in case of swelling
- administer epinephrine if the individual has a bee sting emergency kit
- roll the person into the shock position if symptoms of shock are present. This involves rolling the person onto their back and raising their legs 12 inches above their body
- keep the individual warm and comfortable
If you need to go to the hospital for bee poisoning, a health care professional will monitor your vital signs, including your pulse, breathing rate, blood pressure, and temperature. You will be given medication called epinephrine or adrenaline to treat the allergic reaction. Other emergency treatment for bee poisoning includes:
- oxygen to help you breathe
- antihistamines and cortisone to improve breathing
- beta antagonists to ease breathing problems
- cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) if your heart stops beating or you stop breathing
If you have had an allergic reaction to a bee sting, your doctor will prescribe you an epinephrine autoinjector (EpiPen®). This should be carried with you at all times and is used to treat anaphylactic reactions.
Your doctor may also refer you to an allergist. Your allergist may suggest allergy shots, also known as immunotherapy. This therapy consists of receiving several shots over a period of time that contain a very small amount of bee venom. This can help reduce or eliminate your allergic reaction to bee stings.
To avoid bee stings:
- Do not swat at insects.
- Have any hives or nests around your home removed.
- Avoid wearing perfume outdoors.
- Avoid wearing brightly colored or floral printed clothing outside.
- Wear protective clothing, such as long-sleeved shirts and gloves, when spending time outdoors.
- Walk calmly away from any bees you see.
- Be careful when eating or drinking outside.
- Keep any outside trash covered.
- Keep your windows rolled up when driving.
If you are allergic to bee venom, you should always carry epinephrine with you and wear a medical I.D. bracelet. Ensure that your friends, family members, and co-workers know how to use an epinephrine autoinjector.