Allergic Reactions-Bee Ready!

August 13, 2013

It's amazing how complacent we become even with the knowledge of a potential danger that lurks everywhere in the warm summer months. I am talking about the chance that someone we love will have a severe reaction to a bee sting.

I learned this, as is most often the case, by a very frightening experience. Several years ago a neighbourhood child arrived at my door panting and distressed. Her mother, one of my best friends, had been stung by a bee and was having trouble breathing. My husband and I ran to her home, and when we saw how swollen and red she was, put her directly into our van and broke every speed record getting her to the hospital. She was immediately treated for anaphylaxis, but was not out of the woods for some hours.

The most disturbing point to this story is that she was a grown woman who had been stung by bees several times in her life with no reaction at all! What was different? The type of bee? The location of the bite (it was on her chest near her heart)? Indeed, it was neither of these, but the fact that she had been stung the previous week as well. The doctor said that it was because it was a second bite that the severe reaction occurred. Just that simple but almost deadly.

A few weeks ago I read in the paper that a wonderful young woman from Toronto died of a bee sting while camping with friends. She had no knowledge that she was allergic! Tragic!

Even closer to home, one of my grandsons arrived for a Sunday visit recently, and when I opened the front door he was holding his neck and crying. When I asked him what was wrong he told me he had been stung by a bee. I was extremely upset, quickly brought him into the kitchen and placed an icepack on his neck. Holding him close, I listened for the chest rattle characteristic of a person going into anaphylaxis. I kept checking his mouth and tongue for swelling, and after the passage of five minutes with no observable reaction, I started to relax. We were lucky.

Most of us are very careful about food allergies and our families. We introduce highly allergic foods at appropriate ages, under observation and in small amounts. Peanuts, shellfish, eggs and other highly allergic foods are treated with the respect they deserve.

But when it comes to care around the potential of bee stings we fall down miserably. Lunch on the back deck, wine and cheese on the front porch and picnics in the park. All have the potential for disaster as bees are attracted to anything sweet, including most beverages as they have sugar.

The point of all of all of this is not to alarm, but to inform and hopefully, by doing so, avoid future tragedies such as the one that happened recently. Always keep an antihistamine in your home, both paediatric and adult. When on picnics, carry it with you. This drug will buy you some time if a reaction occurs. If the reaction involves any distress with breathing, go immediately to a hospital.

Once a person has had a reaction, always have an epi--pen within reach. With children, schools should be notified and teachers trained in the use of the epi--pen. Adults should always carry their own pen and wear a medic--alert bracelet.

Summer is a wonderful time to enjoy the outdoors and memorable outings with family and friends…just bee ready for any situation that might arise!