Although most bees and wasps won’t bother you unless they feel they’re being threatened or they become highly excitable, there’s always the possibility that you might get stung at some point and you’re almost certainly going to get bitten by mosquitoes and, perhaps, by black flies too if you’re out and about in the garden a lot. None of this is very pleasant but it’s important to know how to treat these kinds of incidents and the possible dangers when it comes to allergic reactions and what to do about them.
Unlike wasps who are capable of unleashing a barrage of multiple stings (although they rarely do); a bee can only sting you once. Once it stings, the stinger remains in your skin and the bee goes off to die as its stinger contains part of its nervous system and so it can no longer survive. In understanding how its stinger works, it can help you to comprehend why you need to take action quickly and why a bee sting can often develop into something far more serious.
Basically, the stinger ‘unit’ is made up of 3 components – a barb to pierce the skin, a poisonous ‘sac’ and a set of muscles which works to push the barb, and thus the poison, even deeper into your skin. This unit works for around 20 minutes even after you’ve been stung to pump more poison into your bloodstream.
If you’re the person who’s been stung, it’s important that you remove the stinger as soon as possible. However, it’s when another person has been stung where the matter can often get complicated.
Firstly, the person might be in such a state of shock (or even worse) that they may not be able to tell you exactly where they’ve been stung – especially if they’ve been attacked by more than one bee. If that’s the case, you should inspect their head, neck and body first before moving onto areas such as their arms and legs and you should be looking to spot a raised, red-coloured area. Once you’ve identified that, look for a small, dark object which resembles a splinter. You might even see a sac on the outer part of the stinger. If you do, then cut that part off first so that it cannot release any more poison before pulling the stinger out with tweezers if you have them to hand.
Don’t attempt to pull the stinger out by the sac as this will just release more poison into the victim’s bloodstream. If the person is able to speak and tells you that they are allergic to bee stings, then you must call the ambulance service immediately as they could be in danger of going into anaphylactic shock which is an allergic reaction that can be caused by bee stings and other things too, including eating certain kinds of nuts.
Basically, the victim needs to be injected with ephedrine which is a medical term for adrenaline. Some people actually carry this around with them just in case but, if the person is unconscious having fainted, simply phone 999 as this is what is likely to have occurred. Other symptoms of anaphylactic shock include vomiting, diarrhoea, anxiety, low blood pressure and an impending sense of doom but any of the symptoms tend to manifest themselves quite quickly after a person has been stung.
In all cases following a bee sting, you need to wash the affected area with soap and water or use alcohol wipes having first removed the stinger, of course. Then apply some kind of cold compress – a cloth soaked in cold water or wrapped in ice cubes is best to alleviate the pain somewhat. You can also take paracetamol or some other kind of oral pain killer which will help too. Things like calamine lotion and other antihistamines will also lessen the desire to scratch the wound if it starts to itch.
Although wasps and hornets do not leave their sting in you, the downside is that they can sting you over and over again and this can be very painful and very dangerous if you’re attacked by a swarm. In most cases where adults are concerned, you’d need to be stung many times to be at risk of death but children are particularly vulnerable. Whilst you shouldn’t panic if they get stung by one wasp and should simply treat the sting in much the same way as you would a bee sting, calmly reassuring, what will no doubt be, an hysterical child, there shouldn’t be any serious problems occurring as a result. However, if you’re stung repeatedly, it’s advisable to visit your GP who’ll check you out and then will probably want you to go back a week later just to confirm that all is OK.
These are more of an irritant than anything else and are only more dangerous in areas where mosquitoes carry malaria if you’re not vaccinated against that. Basically, your concerns will be centred on the itchiness caused by a mosquito bite. The affected areas will go reddish and will swell a little but the key thing is not to scratch them as this will only prolong the irritation and inflammatory reaction. Oral anthistamines can be taken and lotions applied to reduce the discomfort from the itchiness and to bring the swelling down.
Black Fly Bites (Sand Flies)
These can be extremely painful and should be treated in the same way as mosquito bites. However, some people do suffer allergic reactions to these as the venom enters the bloodstream and you can suffer painful swelling as a result. Nevertheless, there have been only rare cases where a bite from a black fly has caused anaphylactic shock or toxaemia.
There are other minor ‘biters’ in fleas, ticks and mites, but in the UK, those mentioned above in more detail are the most likely to cause you the most distress. It should be pointed out though that bees and wasps are more likely to avoid you than to purposely seek you out if you’re not disturbing them and as for the other critters, decent repellents can be bought over the counter which reduces the likelihood of you being bitten.