My Experience of an Anaphylactic Response to a Bee Sting

A couple of weekends ago I was cutting the lawn by the bee hives, which I have kept bees for a long time.

On this occasion an over-protective bee stung me on the top of the head. I stopped mowing and just at that time, two friends called round for tea. Within 20 minutes I was feeling very hot, sweating, with a vivid red rash on my face, neck, torso. Worst of all and almost beyond anything I have ever experienced was the pain in my hands, and to a lesser extent my feet.

I learnt later that I was in a full anaphylactic reaction.

An uncontrollable urge to wring my hands, took over, but of course that only made things worse in triggering histamine release, the cause of the pain. My chest started to feel tight and my vision became blurred; this was serious.

My partner drove me to Warwick A&E, all wobbly on my legs, and they took me straight in. In an anaphylactic response you get massive release of histamine from the mast cells in the blood stream, which causes a drop in blood pressure leading to vascular shock. At its worst it can be fatal if not correctable by intervention.

So I had fluids I/V to bulk up blood volume, adrenaline to vaso-constrict and counteract the histamine, and corticosteroids to reduce the inflammation. Throughout this my blood pressure was monitored – 85/53 before the adrenaline kicked in – normally 120/80 for me, so the sting had had a marked effect on my body’s homeostasis.

After 6 hours I was discharged with two Epi-pens, anti-histamines and steroids, and strict instructions on how to deal with any future stings.

A week later, a doctor and friend said that she wasn’t convinced that I had been stung by a bee, possibly a horse fly instead, since this was not my first bee sting (no previous reaction).

Soon after, I arranged for a contact to take my bees because I could not risk further problems. But had it definitely been a bee sting? The scientist in me wanted to know! I had arranged with my GP to go for sensitivity testing but that would take weeks!

What if I had given the bees away, but it never was their fault?

For a week I didn’t want to go near the bees, roped off the area for everyone else and tried to resist approaching. But last weekend I was dying to see them.

So I donned my APHA leather biosecurity jacket and trousers under my bee suit and had a look at them. Phew! Hot! All was fine, until I started putting my kit away; that’s when I received a sting to my finger. I had told my partner I half-wanted a sting to test out bee responsibility, and now I had it!

Right hand sting, oedema and swelling, veins not visible.

All was OK for about 20 minutes, when the hand pain developed, and an immediate double dose of antihistamines was needed. Being a scrounge I didn’t use the Epipens – instead, I monitored my BP and said that if it dropped, I would use them. I had an uncomfortable night – localised swelling in my hand and forearm that lasted for 36 hours. An appointment with the doctor next day suggested I had a reaction but it was under control. He told me I should have used an Epipen. I argued that it was localised, and that I would have used it if needed…

So, what have I learned?

  1. I have kept bees for a number of years, have had stings but they have been negligible.
  2. A recent sting resulted in what was to all intents a full anaphylactic response.
  3. A subsequent sting would suggest sensitisation.
  4. Further tests are in hand re sensitivity to bee stings.
  5. Sadly, the end of my bee keeping.

I hope you will never experience this, but if you get this sort of sting reaction it really is a must for you to go to A&E. On the day that I went in they said they had three that day. Two of them beekeepers.

Chris Williamson

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