Monday, January 20, 2014

Being Stung is a Good Thing

This morning, I came across this video of Mike Palmer discussing the importance of getting stung in order to prevent the development of bee allergies.

Mike is a beekeeper, not an allergist. However, he's brought up an important topic, I think, for beekeepers with spouses, significant others, and/or children. Mike states that number of people who have bee-sting allergies is much higher in bee-keeping families (approx. 1/10) than in the general populace (approx. 1/100). He claims the reason for this is that the family members of beeks are often exposed to bee venom though they may never get stung. The reason behind this is the body reacts differently to venom that is "adminstered" by the bee than venom that is contacted more casually.

After watching this video, I feel terribly guilty because I was a bit careless with my beekeeping garb last year. To be honest, I didn't always wash my jacket after an inspection. Usually, I would just hang it up in the mudroom off the kitchen when I was done. However, we are constantly coming and going through the mudroom door, which means I exposed my family to bee venom and whatever else wafted out of the hive during my inspections.

I haven't researched this topic thoroughly; however, I think Mike is onto something. Last June and July, I had several humongous local reactions to some stings. By November, I'd received so many stings that I barely reacted at all. However, my husband, who had no known bee sting allergies prior to my getting bees, was stung just after the bear mauled my hive. Almost immediately, he experienced an allergic reaction that included a metallic taste in his mouth, nausea, headache, dizziness, stomach pain, and some tachycardia, I think. I can't help but wonder if I accidentally caused his misery. For sure, allergies are something I'm going to be more conscious of now.

I shudder to think what might happen if my children have developed allergies. (Yes, my husband is important, too, but he isn't like our three-year old nudist who runs outside in nothing but her undies and shoves her face up to the hive despite all instruction to wear clothes and keep a respectable distance.) This upcoming season, I am definitely planning to change my ways. For starters, I will immediately launder (not simply dump them in the hamper) all clothes worn during inspections (not just the jacket) and keep all equipment in an area well separated from our living space. I also plan to continue stocking Benadryl (liquid and/or capsule form) in my bee kit and in the kitchen, which is where the kids normally enter the house. (Additionally, I keep a tube of mud clay in the kitchen in the event of stings. A paste of vinegar, baking soda, and meat tenderizer is also effective for reducing the pain of stings.)

BTW, I did ask my pediatrician last spring about keeping an epi-pen on hand. He recommended against it since our family had no known allergies at that time. However, he advised seeking immediate medical attention for any reaction that was not at the sting site. Swelling at and congruent to the sting site was fine, he said, no matter how large the swelling became. For instance, if I got stung on the calf and I started to swell at the site spreading to nearly the entire calf, he said he wouldn't worry too much as long as all of the swelling was connected to the sting site. Pain, swelling, redness, itchiness, or burning at the sting site is normal, too. But if I got stung on the leg and then developed a rash on the chest or arm or couldn't breathe, then that would not be ok.

If you experience any of these symptoms after a bee-sting,
please, seek medical attention immediately.
These are all symptoms of anaphylaxis.

In any case, I thought it was interesting that Mike Palmer recommends beekeepers getting stung at least once a month to avoid developing allergies. (Oh boy, did I meet that quota last year!) While apitherapy seems to be a growing practice for treating arthritis now, I've heard very little discussion about the other benefits of bee stings. Ok, some people claim it makes the honey sweeter, but other than those two reasons given, I can't think of why people are promoting bee stings, and I'm very interested in hearing more. If you have any insight or comments on this subject, I'd really like to hear your input!

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