May 18, 2022
Bees, wasps, hornets, and yellow jackets: How do I know if I’m allergic?
Although bees are one of the world’s most important pollinators, these adorable little busy bodies are also cause of some profoundly serious allergic reactions when they sting! Along with bees, other insects such as wasps, hornets, and yellow jackets can all cause severe allergic reactions after stinging. Unfortunately, in the warmer months of spring and summer it’s almost impossible to avoid them. However, there are many ways you can mitigate allergic reactions, so you can feel free to enjoy the weather and the beautiful flowers even with these insects around!
How Do You Know if You’re Allergic to Stings?
Before ever being stung, it is a particularly clever idea to go ahead and find a local allergy clinic to get tested for a potential stinging insect allergy. Insects under this category include wasps, hornets, yellow jackets, and bees. If you are allergic to insect stings, you will notice almost immediately. Allergic reactions to bees and other stinging insects happen almost instantly. Reactions to a bee or other insect sting varies from mild to severe. Mild reactions include instant, sharp burning at the sting site, as well as developing a red welt at the site of the sting, and slight swelling. Moderate symptoms include extreme redness and swelling at the site of the sting which may enlarge over a day or two known as angioedema. Both mild and moderate reactions to a bee sting can be treated by taking an oral antihistamine. It is also important to make sure to remove the stinger from the sting site to stop the flow of bee venom. Severe reactions can lead to anaphylaxis. Symptoms of anaphylaxis include hives, weak and rapid pulse, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, dizziness, or fainting, swelling of throat and tongue, difficulty breathing, and loss of consciousness. If any symptoms of anaphylaxis arise, call 911 immediately for emergency medical treatment.
Can You Cure Allergies to Bee Stings?
Although bee allergies cannot be cured, there are medical treatments available to lessen the effects of stings. Immunotherapy, or allergy shots (desensitization) are a great option that is often successful in treating insect stings and preventing severe allergic reactions. These work by introducing a small dose of the allergen into your immune system to strengthen it.
Is Honey Safe if I Have a Bee Sting Allergy?
One common question in relation to bee sting allergies is, can you safely enjoy honey if you are allergic to bee stings? Unfortunately, there is no clear-cut answer. Unprocessed honey can in fact contain traces of bee venom making it potentially dangerous to consume. In this case, it’s better to be safe than sorry and avoid honey all together. That being said, there are many great alternatives to honey that are entirely safe for you to enjoy if you have a bee venom allergy!
Why do bee stings get worse each time?
Bee stings can get worse each time, but prior reactions to stings are more likely to be repeated than them becoming worse. For example, if you had a mild reaction the first time, your chances have increased for a severe reaction, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you will have one. However, if you’ve had a severe reaction in the past, you are 60% more likely to have another severe reaction. This is why it’s always important to carry oral antihistamines, as well as an epi-pen if you know you have stinging insect allergy. Reactions cannot always be predicted, but it’s always better to be safe than sorry!
Stinging Bees in Austin, Texas:
Common stinging bees in Austin include paper wasps, yellow jackets, hornets, cicada killers, mud daubers, Mexican honey wasps, Africanized bees, carpenter bees, bumble bees, squash bees, leafcutter bees, sweat bees, and mason bees.
Carpenter bees are commonly found in our area. Luckily, only the female has a stinger and are extremely docile and very unlikely to attack. Bald-faced hornets have smooth stingers, which allows them to sting multiple times. Bumble bees also possess the ability to sting, but like the carpenter bee, are extremely docile and very unlikely to sting. Paper wasps are extremely aggressive, and like the bald-faced hornet can sting someone multiple times. The yellowjacket, which is also extremely aggressive, also could sting multiple times.
What should I do to find out if I’m allergic?
IIf you are afraid you may be allergic to any species of stinging bee, get in touch with an allergist near you. At Greater Austin Allergy we offer insect sting testing and treatment including immunotherapy.