I had been extremely lucky having received only 6 beestings in my 8 years of beekeeping.
That was until last Wednesday when I received a whopping FOURTEEN stings on both my legs and ankles whilst trying to replace a base to a bait hive that had come away whilst we were moving it.
I was curious if bee stings can be compared to boiling eggs, i.e taking 5 minutes to boil one egg or 14. The thought of each sting taking a few days to be ‘processed’ by my body was daunting to say the least…
Other members of my ‘bee team’ had recently been stung, all in situations that were not expected and in places where the bees made the best of an opportunity, sneaking inside a boot, inside a veil, when thinking we were clear, and even on the head when entering an apiary where normally no suits or veils were needed unless looking inside the colonies.
As you may have noticed I am an advocate of natural medicine and healing and so the taking of antihistamine medication after a sting wasn’t something I would consider. Saying that, the fear of anaphylaxis is always in the back of one’s mind…
It was then of some comfort and excitement that on Friday my Herbal Medicine course began it’s annual Summer School where I knew there’d be some interest in any medical issue.
I’d been dosing myself up regularly with the homeopathic remedy ‘Apis Mel’ which I have found works very well with individual stings. I then use a homemade plantain ointment topically and after a bit of added research, I made up some nettle, calendula and St John’s wort tea to drink to assist with the removal of the venom toxins. I also have plenty of Aloe vera plants and used the incredibly refreshing gel from the fresh leaves to cool my legs.
As far as the stings were concerned, after the initial pain during the stinging at around 9am on the Wednesday morning, I was without pain until around 4.30pm whilst on a coastal walk with my son. Thankfully with the weather being very warm, a stop off at Durdle Door, with a swim, was a great relief and subdued any swelling and itching. We’d walked 5 miles and by the time we returned to the car, 10 miles had been walked and my foot was beginning to swell and my calves were itching.
I soaked my feet in cool water and epsom salts before bed, and spent most of the night trying to resist the urge to scratch! It wasn’t a good night and I had a day’s work on Thursday before the drive to my course in Devon.
After a morning’s work, my son took me out for lunch and thankfully, ‘Home’ in Castle Cary had tables outside and were most obliging with a bucket of cold water for me to soak my feet in whilst we ate!
I was still resisting antihistamine and confident that the tea, plantain ointment and apis mel would get me through. By the time I was in bed that evening, my legs and feet had swollen quite badly and naturally the fear of things getting worse, over night, away from home was a worry!
I had brought a PainPod3 with me so I attached that for 30 minutes and then slept really well.
My first lecture began at 9am and was with ‘the Green Man’, Jeremy Griffiths. It was a day filled with Bach Flower remedy wisdom and example case studies. My legs and feet were absolutely fine until I sat in the sunshine over lunch time when they soon heated up and began itching! A bucket of water was found and again I soaked my legs in the cool water, bliss!
Swelling was very much reduced by the evening and itching minimal. I slept well with a brief waking up at 1am wanting to scratch but I’d brought a fresh aloe vera leaf with me which I then used to massage into my leg. It was so cooling and I was soon back to sleep.
My legs and feet looked much more normal today and I realised that I’d not been taking the apis mel since Day 2! There were marks where I’d been stung, looking like pale bruises and my feet were a little puffy but generally all was well.
This mornings lecture was from Sue Hinchley, an excellent tutor who also works as a nurse alongside her herbal medicine practice. She was teaching us all about dehydration and I was particularly excited when the hormone ‘histamine’ was mentioned! After an absolutely enlightening talk on dehydration on a cellular level, she added, for my benefit, a quick session on the effects of histamine and dehydration on bites and stings. I love to have the exact goings on explained during any kind of ‘healing crisis’!
This is what we learned:
When a cell is injured it releases histamine. After a sting, mast cells will rapidly relocate to the injured area and they also release histamine to create an inflammatory response. Mast cells are part of the immune response and contain many granules rich in histamine and heparin. They are absolutely crucial in wound healing. As with any increased activity, heat is produced, and so the body sends water to the inflamed area to help maintain the temperature and prevent overheating.This is what creates the swelling.
The fluid sent to the damaged area then dilutes the venom and passes it into the lymph to be processed and then removed from the body.
What exactly is histamine?
Histamine is known to be involved in 23 different physiological functions because of it’s versatility in chemically bonding with other molecules in the body. It can carry a charge (coulombic) and is mostly generated by the mast cells and in white blood cells. Mast cells are most numerous in areas of the body most prone to infection or injury; nose, mouth, feet, internal body surfaces and blood vessels. Another form of histamine, not from mast cells, is found in the brain as a neurotransmitter, and also in the stomach where it can be released and stored.
These factors are key in understanding anaphylaxis where the symptoms range from itchy throat, runny nose, vomiting, shortness of breath and a drop in blood pressure. The name comes from the Greek, ana– against and phylaxis– protection.
Anaphylaxis usually presents within 5 minutes to 30 minutes from a bite or sting and 2 hours from eating food. Food is the most common trigger for children, with medications, bites and stings with adults. There are a variety of rarer causes including exercise and changes in temperature. Vaccines have also been recorded as triggers in some people.(“Adverse Effects of Vaccines: Evidence and Causality” (PDF). U.S. Institute of Medicine. 2011. Archived from the original on 2017-09-08. Retrieved 2014-01-16.) Antibiotics, such as penicillin, aspirin and NSAIDS are common medical triggers.
Getting back to bee stings, anaphylaxis may occur to susceptible people. (The EAACI Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Guidelines Group (August 2014). “Anaphylaxis: guidelines from the European Academy of Allergy and Clinical Immunology”. Allergy. 69 (8): 1026–45. doi:10.1111/all.12437. PMID 24909803.)
It is of course difficult to know if you are a susceptible person or not until after the event, however it’s always good to keep your immune system in tip top condition by eating organic food, drinking clean water and avoiding as many environmental and emotional stressors as possible!
Avoidance of bee stings is always the best policy, hence a veil and suit and ensuring that you are in the best of calm states when approaching a colony. There are mixed reports of whether lots of stings makes you less sensitive, or can create an anaphylaxis response, however, Immunotherapy with hymenoptera venoms is effective at desensitising 80-90% of adults and 98% of children against allergies to bees.
So how does an ‘anti-histamine’ work?
Antihistamines are for short term treatment and a class of drug that opposes the activity of histamine receptors in the body. They suppress the histamine-induced swelling by blocking the binding of histamine to it’s receptors or reducing histamine receptor activity on nerves, and mast cells.
There hasn’t actually been much research into the use and benefits of using antihistamines Consumer Reports (2013), Using Antihistamines to Treat Allergies, Hay Fever, & Hives – Comparing Effectiveness, Safety, and Price (PDF), Yonkers, New York: Consumer Reports) and so I am unable to say much more on where their role stands with bee stings, other than it’s a common treatment recommended by pharmacists to assist when treating stings.
“I was curious if bee stings can be compared to boiling eggs, i.e taking 5 minutes to boil one egg or 14. The thought of each sting taking a few days to be ‘processed’ by my body was daunting to say the least…”
I am interested in the length of time it takes for a bee sting to subside though, with no antihistamine treatment my 14 bites had completely subsided from all symptoms by day 4, which was the same as a single sting I had last year on my ear. So my ‘boiled egg’ theory is true! I do know of people stung by bees who have used antihistamines and symptoms have lasted for up to a week, with occasional flare ups, so is that due to a delaying of the healing process by restricting the histamine or is it a personal reaction dependant on the individual’s immune response?
So, in summary, should you find yourself stung by a bee here are some tips on how best to deal with it:
- Scrape the sting out of the skin as soon as possible, don’t try and squeeze it out as you’ll just increase the venom- use your nail or a credit card.
- Move far away from the bees, as a sting can trigger pheromones to attract more stings
- take ‘Apis Mel’ homeopathic remedy, following the guidelines on the packet ( available from Helios homeopathic pharmacy)
- Plantain is a fabulous natural remedy against bites and stings and can be found in most fields and lawns. Mash it up to get the juices and rub onto the affected area. If you have a plantain ointment use that.
- Keep the area cool, ice packs, buckets of cool water and sea water are fabulous
- Keep hydrated, a large glass of water, preferably mineral rich so add sea salt or sizzling minerals. The cells need minerals to remain hydrated and transport the histamine and lymph to heal the sting
- Rest. The body always heals better when rested
- If excessive swelling, shortness of breath, panic, itchy throat then do consult a medical practitioner or hospital if concerned about anaphylaxis
- Honey on the bite can stop inflammation as it’s hydrophilic ( draws out water) Try and use the honey from the colony that stung you!
- Avoid being stung by wearing a veil, welly boots, tying back hair and being kind to bees!
Finally, should you want a giggle, this is a clip my sons found showing Bear Grylls pinching some honey and paying the price! bear Grylls bee stings
I appreciate that the above clip isn’t really a laughing matter, however it does show the seriousness of protecting one’s head especially when working or playing with bees. I have also been researching the medicinal properties of beestings as apitherapists have been using beestings therapy for thousands of years all around the world. I have also found articles about the spiritual connection between bees and their stings, and how they are actually working to heal us. I looked up the relevance of ankle and calf stings and was not surprised to learn that they represented two areas that I have been working on healing within myself!
Clever bees! Thank you!