Am I allergic to bee stings?


Posted by Andy Sivell | Posted in Bee stings and bee venom, Beekeeping advice | Posted on 01-07-2012

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I wasn’t quite sure how to approach this post. I guess I’m looking for advice. Most of all I’m probably looking for reassurance. Two years of beekeeping it took me to produce any honey, something I used to joke about through clenched teeth. Oddly, I felt slightly more ashamed of the fact that in two years I also hadn’t been stung once. Call myself a beekeeper. That changed three weeks ago. And two weeks ago. And last Sunday. And now, wouldn’t you know it, it turns out that I’m probably allergic to bee venom…

I suffered what I believe is called an anaphylactic shock, although you’ll have to forgive me for not yet knowing the correct terminology, or for really knowing much beyond what happened to me. I was stung (for the third time) at about 10.30am near the crown of my right foot. It hurt like hell. Nevertheless, I hobbled around for the rest of the day, proudly showing the sting to my kids, and even a bemused visiting Deryck. At six o’clock that evening something really strange happened: within the space of five minutes I began coughing and wheezing. This was followed by my sinuses blocking up. For all the world it was like having a cold, but without any advance warning. At this stage my foot was painful, but not overly swollen. I went to bed and spent an uncomfortable night with a streaming nose, unable to breath except through my mouth.

The following morning my foot was a sight to behold. It looked as if someone had inflated it with a bicycle pump. As the day progressed it got worse. By lunchtime my wife insisted on driving me to the local pharmacy and, when that turned out to be closed, to the nearby doctors’ surgery. With my foot now gently fizzing I expected them to tell me to pull myself together and come back in a week’s time. Instead I had receptionists dashing in all directions, trying to locate a doctor or nurse. The doctor who saw me didn’t pull her punches. Without even examining the bee sting she questioned me closely about my breathing difficulties. Then she dropped the bombshell: time to give up beekeeping.

It’s now a week on. With steroids and anti-histamine tablets it took the foot four days to return to normal. I have an appointment to see an allergy specialist. Mrs S has done a little reading up and I’ve spoken to Paul, a local beekeeper who’s also allergic to bee stings. He said it’s about taking sensible precautions. He upgraded his bee suit and carries an EpiPen with him at all times. I went to Boots and asked them to show me an EpiPen. It scared the living daylights out of me. It doesn’t help that I’m needle-phobic.

I don’t want to give up beekeeping but I’d be lying if I didn’t confess that I’m a little nervous about continuing. I can’t be taking time off work or – as the doctor suggested – dialing 999 every time I get a bee sting. For once this isn’t a joke. I’d genuinely be grateful for any advice from other beekeepers who’ve faced the same thing.