- There are a wide range of reactions to honey bee venom. A normal healthy reaction may include swelling or redness in the general area where stung, and a feeling of heat or itchiness. Swelling can sometimes be severe. For instance, if stung on the finger, the arm may be swollen even up to the elbow. Swelling such as this is fairly common, even though it may be alarming. Normal swelling may last up to a few days. During the days following a stinging incident, the wound may itch. Pain may be alleviated by using a cold compress.
- Allergic reactions can range from mild to severe. It is important to seek medical care if an allergic reaction is suspected. Symptoms can begin immediately following the sting or up to 30 minutes later and might last for hours. It is possible to have a severe allergic reaction to a bee sting that is not life-threatening. Symptoms can include hives, feeling nauseous or lightheaded, stomach cramps, vomiting, diarrhea, low blood pressure and swelling in areas other than the general sting site. For example, if stung on the left hand and the right hand or neck shows swelling you should seek medical attention immediately. Oral antihistamines can help minimize the symptoms.
- Anaphylactic reactions include swelling of the mouth or throat, shortness of breath, difficulty in swallowing, and shock. These types of reactions typically occur within minutes or even seconds of being stung and are very rare. It is estimated that less than 1% of the population will have an anaphylactic reaction. Immediate medical attention is required.
Anaphylaxis, if treated in time, usually can be reversed by epinephrine (adrenaline) injected into the body. Individuals who are aware that they are allergic to stings should carry epinephrine in either a normal syringe (sting kit) or an auto-injector (Epi-Pen) whenever they think they might encounter stinging insects. Epinephrine is obtainable only by prescription from a physician.
The average person can safely tolerate 10 stings per pound of body weight. This means that although 500 stings can kill a child, the average adult could withstand more than 1100 stings.
What to do if your animal is involved in a serious stinging incident:
Try to get the animal away from the bees WITHOUT ENDANGERING YOURSELF. Call your dog inside your house or car. Do not attempt to approach a person or an animal being stung without protective gear (such as a bee keeper's suit). If you approach an animal that is being stung, remember that an injured animal may bite or attack unexpectedly. If the animal runs to you with aggravated bees following it, you are likely to be stung.
If possible, douse the animal with soapy water. It is important to use soap and not just water. A mild solution of liquid dish detergent in water (approximately 1/2 cup soap per gallon of water) will immobilize honey bees and kill them within 60 seconds.
Covering the animal with a heavy blanket during a serious stinging incident may also discourage the bees.
Once the animal is away from bees look for stingers. When a honey bee stings, it loses its venom sac and stinger. This means the honey bee dies after it stings, but the stinger may continue to inject venom for up to a minute or until the stinger is removed. If you can see stingers on the animal, remove them by scraping them out with a credit card, knife or fingernail. Do not pull them out with tweezers or fingers because you will squeeze more venom into the animal.
If an animal has sustained numerous stings consult your veterinarian. The number of stings an animal can survive depends on its body weight, the amount of venom it received, and whether or not it is allergic to bee venom. As with humans, even one sting may be dangerous if the animal is allergic (although rare).