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Be Prepared For Bee Stings

For many people, a bee sting is nothing more than a painful nuisance. But for people with allergies to bees, a sting can be deadly. The Saturday Early Show's Dr. Mallika Marshall has information about what you should do if you get stung.

Most people who don't have allergies to bee stings will get pain, itching, redness and swelling around the site of the sting. Actually, about 95 percent of bee stings are inflicted by yellow jackets, as opposed to honeybees or bumblebees.

How do you know if you are allergic to bees? It's really based on whether you've had an allergic reaction to a sting in the past. You may have a localized allergic reaction where you might get a huge amount of swelling and redness that develops over 24 hours and may not go down for a week.

Otherwise, you may have a generalized allergic reaction, called anaphylaxis, where you can develop hives, trouble breathing, and lightheadedness. Obviously, these reactions can be life-threatening, so you need to see an allergist if you've ever had a significant reaction to a sting in the past.

Also, be aware that an allergy can develop at any time during your life — and the more times you get stung in your life, the greater change you have of becoming allergic.

An epinephrine pen (or epi-pen) is a spring-loaded injector that makes it easy for people to administer epinephrine or adrenaline to themselves if they are having a severe allergic reaction. Anyone who has had a severe allergic reaction in the past, whether to bee stings or shellfish or some other allergen, should carry this with them at all times. It could save your life.

For those who are not allergic, here are some steps to take if stung:

  • If you notice a little black dot in the sting, it's probably the stinger. You should simply scrape it off with your fingernail. Apparently, only honeybees leave a stinger behind.
  • For pain and swelling, to help neutralize the venom, you can rub the site with a cotton ball soaked in a meat tenderizer solution for about 20 minutes. This will help cut down on the pain. If you don't have meat tenderizer, you can use an aluminum-based deodorant or a baking soda solution.
  • You can then apply ice to help with the swelling and pain. Take Tylenol or Motrin for discomfort. Some people complain of itching at the site as well, so you can take an antihistamine like Benadryl or Claritin.

    To avoid getting stung in the first place, here are a few practical things you can do:

  • Remove food and garbage, which attract bees, from outside living areas.
  • Wear shoes and clothing with long sleeves.
  • Avoid wearing strong scents.
  • Do not swat at bees. Most bees attack only if they feel threatened.

    Unfortunately, insect repellents won't work.

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