Beekeeping with a Honeybee Allergy


| 10/20/2014 9:38:00 AM


Tags: bee stings, beekeeping, honeybee allergy, Jennifer Ford, New York, ,

 A common concern about bees and beekeeping is getting stung and allergic reactions. When I first started beekeeping I had what I considered to be “normal” reactions to bee stings. I have since developed a true honeybee venom allergy, but luckily, have been able to continue my work as a beekeeper.

 Reactions to bee stings can be divided into two categories – immunological response, and allergic response.   An immunological response can range from a normal, non-allergic reaction at the time of being stung, such as pain, burning, redness, itching, swelling, and tenderness at the sting site, to a large local reaction, including extreme swelling around the site, lasting up to a week. (NW Calderone, 98-99). While some of my reactions had been quite large (I was stung on my foot once, and could not wear anything but adjustable sandals for a week), none had spread beyond the area of the sting.

A few years after my husband and I started beekeeping, we were working on removing a colony of honeybees from the wall of an old shed. It was a long, hot process, and by the end, both the humans and the honeybees being moved were feeling pretty grouchy. While we were finishing up, I received three stings in a short period of time. In hindsight, I should have walked away and cleaned out the first sting right away. However, I was focused on getting the job done. I had also never had a problem with honeybee stings before, so I did not think too much of it.

On the way home, I noticed that my lips, tongue, and throat felt slightly swollen, but I was breathing fine. I debated going to the emergency room, but because my breathing was not affected, chose not too. It was pretty scary, but I chalked the reaction up to receiving multiple stings, and decided to just be more careful. A few days later we went back to collect any remaining bees. I was stung one more time, and had the same reaction as when I was stung three times.

I did some reading, and learned about the other type of honeybee venom reaction – allergic response. Allergic responses are characterized by symptoms away from the site of the actual sting. These can range from hives, rash, and swelling away from the site, to minor respiratory symptoms, abdominal cramps, gastro-intestinal upset, and weakness. In severe cases, life-threatening systemic allergic reactions (anaphylaxis) can occur. This includes shock, unconsciousness, respiratory distress, and laryngeal blockage. (NW Calderone, 99-100).

Visiting an Allergist

I was very concerned about these reactions, and decided to visit an allergist. The allergist said she sees many beekeepers about honey bee allergies every year, and scheduled me for allergy tests. The testing took about half a day, and consisted of skin tests of different types of stinging insect venom. Based on the testing, it turned out that I had developed an allergy to honeybee venom. Luckily, I had experienced a less severe reaction.




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