Summer means bees — tips for coping

Contributing ColumnistJune 8, 2014 

Deborah Edelen, Baptist Health

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The beauty of spring and summer unfortunately comes with the hazard of bees.

Most of the time bee stings cause a mild reaction that may include sharp burning pain, a red welt, a small white spot where the stinger punctured the skin, and slight swelling. Swelling and pain usually go away within a few hours with home treatments.

Some people who are stung by bees or other insects, however, have a stronger reaction with extreme redness and swelling that gradually enlarges over the next 24 to 48 hours. Moderate reactions tend to resolve more slowly over five to 10 days.

Having a moderate reaction doesn't necessarily mean you'll have a severe one the next time you're stung, but the risk of a more severe reaction increases with each subsequent sting. A severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) is potentially life-threatening and requires emergency treatment. A small percentage of people who are stung by a bee or other insect quickly develop symptoms of anaphylaxis which include:

 Hives, itching and flushed or pale skin

 Difficulty breathing

 Swelling of the throat, lips or tongue

 A weak, rapid pulse

 Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea or abdominal cramps

 Confusion

 Dizziness or fainting

 Loss of consciousness

Those who have a severe allergic reaction have a 30 to 60 percent chance of anaphylaxis the next time they're stung. Talk to your health care provider or an allergy specialist about preventive measures to avoid a similar reaction in case you are stung again.

Here's what to do for bee stings that cause only a mild or moderate reaction:

 Remove the stinger as soon as you can by scraping it off with a straight-edged object such as a credit card.

 Wash the area with soap and water.

 Apply an ice pack to reduce pain and swelling.

A pain reliever, such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen, or a topical cream, such as hydrocortisone or lidocaine, may ease the pain. Calamine lotion or creams containing oatmeal or baking soda can help soothe itchy skin.

An antihistamine containing diphenhydramine (Benadryl, others) may relieve itching and decrease swelling. Always use medications according to label directions or as recommended by your health care provider.

If you are exposed to bees, don't panic and swat at them, which may cause them to become defensive and sting you. If a few bees are flying around you, stay calm and slowly walk away.

Deborah Edelen is a nurse practitioner at Baptist Express Care clinic located at Walmart in Danville.

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