Bee Stings: Prevention and Treatment
In the midst of a mysterious decline in honeybee colonies, it seems prudent to respect the bees that cross our paths. Swatting, smushing, and spraying should be avoided—and remember that when a honeybee stings you, she dies. Preventing stings is a boon to both the bees and us. Here’s how to reduce the risk of being stung–and just in case, how to best treat bee stings naturally.
Honeybees are disappearing at an alarming rate. Nobody is quite sure what is causing the hives’ inhabitants to desert their colonies—now known as Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD)—but it has become a great concern. In the last few years bee populations have declined as much as 60 percent on the West Coast and 70 percent on the East Coast. CCD poses a huge threat to food production as bees are needed to pollinate plants and are extensively used in agriculture for this purpose.
Seems there is little we can do to help—but if we follow these tips and save a bee or two, it certainly can’t hurt.
Reduce the chance of getting stung (and save a bee!):
1. Wear light-colored clothing.
2. Don’t use perfume or soaps, shampoos and deodorants with fragrance.
3. Avoid bananas and banana-scented products.
4. Wear clean clothing and be clean—our sweat makes bees angry.
5. Stay clear of flowering plants.
6. Keep your outside areas clean. Bees and wasps thrive in places with food trash: Picnic tables, grills and other outdoor eating areas.
Understand stinging behavior:
1. If a single bee is pestering you, remain still and cover your face, or lie face down on the ground. (The face is the most likely place for a bee or wasp to sting.)
2. Most bees will not attack if left alone, but swatting at a bee may cause it to sting.
3. If you are attacked by several bees at once your best bet is to run, or jump in water. Bees release a chemical when they sting which alerts other bees to come to their defense. The more bees that have stung you, the stronger the “alarm” will be.
How to treat a sting:
1. Scrape the stinger out as quickly as possible—do not pull or squeeze the stinger out as that may release more venom.
2. Clean with soap and water to prevent infection.
To reduce pain, itch and swelling:
Over the counter sting remedies vary in efficacy and may contain toxic ingredients as harmful as the bee venom! Instead try:
Ice: Ice lessens swelling by constricting vessels and reducing the flow of venom in the blood. And the numbing effect soothes pain and itching.
Baking soda: Make a paste of baking soda and water and apply to the sting site. The alkaline nature of the baking soda helps to neutralize the acidity in the venom. You can also mix in some meat tenderizer which contains a naturally occurring enzyme (papain, from papaya) that helps to break down the protein in the venom.
Vinegar: When stung by a wasp, vinegar is the soother of choice. Use this trick to remember: Baking soda for bees (both at the beginning of the alphabet), vinegar for wasps (both at the end of the alphabet).
Toothpaste: Believe it or not, this is a great remedy which works on the same alkaline/acidity premise as baking soda. The presence of small amounts of glycerin in toothpaste may also add to its soothing properties. Also, a small tube of toothpaste is handy to pack in a travel first aid kit or picnic basket.
WHEN TO CALL 911
According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), 40 to 50 people in the U.S. die each year from allergic reactions to bee stings. Persons with severe reactions to insect stings should wear a medical ID bracelet and carry an insect allergy kit.
There are several signs of an allergic reaction to bee stings. Look for swelling that moves to other parts of the body, especially the face or neck. Check for difficulty in breathing, wheezing, dizziness or a drop in blood pressure. Get the person immediate medical care if any of these signs are present. Also seek emergency treatment if a person has been stung in the nose, mouth or throat—swelling in these areas may interfere with breathing.