Reaction Time

Kim Greenwood writes:

Does the "mild reaction" to a bee sting - swelling of arm, mild pain and itching - diminish as the season goes on? Do reactions lessen as you spend more time with bees and are stung more often? What about developing a honeybee venom allergy over time, is that possible?

Yes, the swelling and itching will diminish over the season, if you are stung regularly. How often does regularly mean? I guess everyone is different, but my help start the season swelling and itching from bee stings, and in a few weeks they see a big difference in their reaction. Of course, once they brave it without gloves, they get some amount of stings every day. I do believe it is possible to develop an allergy to honey bee venom, over time. That said, I also believe that most who develop allergies do so because they aren't stung often enough. They handle bees, get stung on their gloves and suits, and are thereby exposed to venom without being stung. In such a scenario, the body develops the wrong type of antibodies, and the person has an event when they are stung. My daughter is a good example, as are some family members of the commercial beekeepers in our association. She was only stung a couple times before her allergy developed, but she rode in my bee truck and sat on my lap from the time she was born. My truck and bee clothes were contaminated with bee venom and honey bee proteins. When she did get stung one evening, by a bee who hitchhiked home with me in my clothes, she had an allergic reaction. Thankfully, we're only five miles from the hospital, and she was administered epinephrine in time. When we talked to her allergist, he told me something that will high-lite what I am saying. In the general public, allergy to honey bee venom runs about 1 in 100-200 people. In commercial beekeeping families, that number rises dramatically to 1 in 10.

- Mike