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Wasps and bees can put us in a bit of a panic.
But some people have more reason than most to be anxious because, for them, a sting can cause a dramatic – and potentially life threatening – allergic reaction.
It’s called anaphylaxis and it’s when your body’s immune system overreacts. It can be quite frightening. The triggers include foods such as peanuts, wasp and bee venom and even some drugs, like penicillin.
The most deadly, however, are wasp and bee stings. In the UK they caused more than 70 per cent of all deaths from anaphylaxis outside of a medical setting between 1992 and 20011.
That’s more than the fatalities caused by food allergies.
In fact, up to 3% of the people in the UK are at risk of an allergy and a small minority of those may be at risk of anaphylaxis. But they may not even know it.
JOIN THE RESISTANCE
That’s why we’re campaigning to highlight the issue and the steps that people at risk can take to stay safe.
Perhaps you, or someone you know, has had a severe reaction to a wasp or bee sting? Or maybe you’re anxious after experiencing moderate symptoms from being stung?
If that’s the case, you can still enjoy the great outdoors – whether at work or play – thanks to a choice of treatment options. These range from sting avoidance strategies all the way to specialist treatments available at hospital based allergy clinics. Just speak to your GP to find out more.
So next time you bump into a wasp or bee – there’s no need to panic.
About bee and wasp allergy:
In the UK there are several species of stinging wasp and hornet although only one species of bee, the honey bee, commonly stings. Wasps and bees are the most likely to sting; despite their size, hornet stings are rare and bumble bees hardly ever sting.
Some people have a sensitivity that means a sting by a wasp or a bee could trigger a full allergy to the specific venom of that species. It’s the particular proteins within the venom that are to blame.
You may not have an allergic reaction the first time you’re stung by a wasp or bee but there is a small risk that subsequent stings could lead to a serious allergic reaction called anaphylaxis.
Symptoms of anaphylaxis include:
- Feeling unwell, dizzy and sensing what’s been described as “an impending doom”
- Rapidly spreading rash
- Sudden drop in blood pressure
- Wheezing, tight chest
- Physical collapse
What can we do about it?
If you’re concerned you might be allergic to wasp or bee venom, there are a number of options.
Reducing the chances of wasps and bees bothering you reduces the chances of being stung. Try to avoid the things that attract them such as sugary food and drink, bright clothing and some perfumes. And if they come too close for comfort – don’t flap!
2. Adrenaline Auto Injectors (AAI)
For people with a known allergy, Adrenaline Auto Injectors (AAI) are a possible solution. They can be kept on hand so that in the event of a sting, the victim can quickly inject themselves with adrenaline to stop the reaction, as well as immediately calling for an ambulance.
3. Go to your GP
Explain to your doctor why you are worried and any symptoms you may have experienced as a result of a wasp or bee sting. They will be able to offer advice and, if appropriate, refer you to an allergy clinic for tests and specialist treatments.
4. Specialist treatments
The NHS also offer other long-term treatment options that are available from specialist allergy clinics. Speak to your GP to find out more.
What are the treatment options?
Tackling the symptoms: emergency response
There are alternative treatments which, rather than treat the cause of anaphylactic shock, help to tackle the symptoms instead.
One of the best known examples is the Adrenaline Auto Injector (AAI). Adrenaline is injected into the thigh as the first line treatment of symptoms of an anaphylactic reaction, whilst awaiting medical assistance from 999 ambulance paramedics. Adrenaline maintains blood pressure and oxygen levels, while easing inflammation and other problems.
As well as an Adrenaline Auto Injector (AAI), emergency sting kits might also contain:
- antihistamines: high dose anti-allergy pills
- bronchodilator: to relax your airways
Emergency kits are available for a range of people who have had:
- a history of severe reactions with respiratory difficulty and/or hypotension
- less severe reactions that have nevertheless been wide-ranging
- asthma or mild food reactions that make them high risk
However, to be effective an emergency kit has to be used quickly, correctly and safely. The treatment isn’t guaranteed, so an ambulance must always be called after using an Adrenaline Auto Injector (AAI).
Tackling the cause: Specialist treatments
First, you speak to your GP. If they think that you have had an anaphylactic reaction or are at risk of having one they will refer you to an allergy clinic.
Should you have experienced a systemic allergic reaction the allergy clinic may perform a skin-prick test or a blood test to discover what kind of venom you are allergic to: wasp, bee or both? Each wasp species has its own venom so it’s important to find out which of those it is, or whether it’s bee venom that is the problem. It is possible to be allergic to both, though most people only react to one.
If you are assessed as suitable for specialist treatments, you will start with a tiny injection of the right purified venom. Regular increases in dose are given until your body has become immune to its effect. The injections are by specialist medical professionals at one of the dedicated units around the UK.
It can take three to five years to complete a course so you will need to be patient!
How much do you know?
How much do you know about wasps, bees and venom allergies?
Check out our fact-file to test your knowledge.
- Only female wasps and bees sting
- Despite their reputation, hornets are only aggressive near their nest
- There is just one species of honey bee in the UK – but several species of wasps
- Bumble bees rarely sting
- More people are allergic to wasps than bees1
- In the UK, venom anaphylaxis is the second most frequent cause of anaphylaxis outside medical settings1
- People who experience an anaphylactic shock after one sting are 60-70% more likely to show the same reaction in the future2
- 71% of anaphylaxis deaths in the UK between 1992 and 2001 were from wasp and bee stings1
Bee in the know about Anaphylaxis
To view our infographic click below: