Most people will be stung by a bee at some time in their lives. Usually a bee sting produces a painful, itchy swelling which may be bothersome for a few days.
But some people will have a more severe reaction. This can range from generalised painful swelling of a whole limb (arm or leg) for a week or more, to a reaction affecting the whole body causing restriction of breathing and even death.
A bee's sting consists of a sharp barb with an attached bag of poison, or venom sac. The poison from this venom sac will be pumped into the body for several minutes after the bee has departed.
The barb on the sting means that, rather like a fish hook, it can't be pulled out. Attempts to do so only result in more poison being injected, making the reaction worse.
The best way to deal with a bee sting is to scrape it off with a sideways motion using a firm object such as the blade of a knife, a credit card, or even a finger nail. Ice should immediately be applied to the area. If the person who has been stung is known to react badly to bee stings a compression bandage should be applied to the arm or leg and the patient encouraged not to move. Medical help should be sought. An injection of adrenaline may be needed to overcome the reaction.
Bees are attracted by strong smells and bright colours. They are most active on bright sunny days. Children are particularly prone to bee stings. Watch out for thick patches of clover in lawns where children play. One of the most dangerous places to be stung by a bee is inside the mouth. The resulting swelling can block off breathing with fatal results. This usually happens as a result of having a drink outside and not noticing a bee getting into it. This can easily happen if drinking out of a can. Always use a straw if drinking from a can.
It is possible for those who react badly to be de-sensitised to bee stings. Small amounts of purified venom are given at regular intervals over several months or years. This will have a 90 per cent chance of reducing the risks of a life-threatening reaction in those at risk.
Last Reviewed: 30 November 2009