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What Is a Bee Sting Allergy?

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  • Written By: Steve R.
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 02 October 2014
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A bee sting allergy occurs when a person's immune system is extremely sensitive to the chemicals found in the venom from the sting of a honeybee, bumblebee, hornet, wasp, or yellow jacket. While individuals who are allergic to bee stings may have different reactions, generally a person will experience pain, swelling, and itching in the affected area. Allergic reactions need immediate attention and may be treated with medicine or antihistamines. In severe and rare instances, a bee sting allergy may be fatal.

For a person to have a bee sting allergy, she would have needed to have been stung at least one previous time. In other words, for an allergic reaction to take place, a person needs to experience an exposure to the allergen. A person can be stung by a bee as a child, and then years later, if he is stung again, he can experience a full-blown reaction. Approximately two million Americans have a bee sting allergy.

Symptoms of a mild allergic reaction may include redness, soreness, swelling, and warmth around the affected area. Individuals who have an allergic reaction have good chance of experiencing a worse reaction if stung again. A severe reaction, also known as an anaphylactic reaction, often includes trouble breathing and swallowing, and a quickened pulse. A person suffering from a severe reaction may also experience red hives on his body beyond the affected area; swelling around the face, throat, and mouth; and a noticeable drop in blood pressure.

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A person experiencing an anaphylactic reaction is in danger, as he can go into shock, suffer from cardiac arrest, and lose consciousness within 10 minutes. Without treatment, a person undergoing a severe reaction may even die within half an hour. Deaths from allergic reactions are quite rare, however, as only about 50 deaths are reported each year in the United States.

If the bee’s stinger is left in a person’ flesh, it is important to remove it as quickly as possible to reduce the effects of the allergic reaction. Mild reactions can often be treated with antihistamines or prescription corticosteroid cream to alleviate itching and swelling. A paste made of meat tenderizer and water that is applied to the affected area can also relieve itching and inflammation.

Bee sting allergies can also be treated with immunotherapy. With immunotherapy, a person is gradually given a series of shots to in order for his immune system to develop a tolerance of bee venom in case of a future allergic reaction. Immunotherapy is more than 95 percent effective in thwarting future reactions.

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