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Bee Stings
Herbal & Home Remedies Herbal Remedies Home Remedies
A bee sting strictly means a sting from a bee (honeybee, bumblebee, sweat bee etc). In the vernacular it can mean a sting of a bee, wasp, hornet, yellowjacket or sawfly. Some people may even call the bite of a horsefly a bee sting. It is important to differentiate a bee sting from an insect bite. It is also important to recognize that the venom or toxin of stinging insects is quite different.

Therefore, the body's reaction to a bee sting may differ significantly from one species to another.

The most aggressive stinging insects are wasps (including bald-faced hornets) but not in general hornets (the European hornet is gentle). All of these insects aggressively defend their nests, although they have not developed a sting targeted at mammals like the honeybees.

In people who are allergic to bee stings, a sting may trigger a dangerous anaphylactic reaction that is potentially deadly.

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Stinging insects

Bee and wasp stings are immediately obvious. A sharp pain is followed by a burning sensation that soon resolves into a major itch. A red ring or bump appears at the site of the sting. The important thing to remember is that bees' stingers are barbed and usually remain in the skin. In its haste to get away, the bee literally tears the stinger and the attached poison sac out of its abdomen, killing itself in the process. Wasps and hornets lack barbs on their stingers and can attack again and again.

The most serious immediate reactions occur from stings of the yellow-and-black flying insects. A major allergic reaction that interferes with breathing is called anaphylaxis or anaphylactic shock. Histamine, a chemical released by the body during most allergic reactions, is released into the skin after any insect bite and is responsible for the redness and itching. In anaphylaxis, histamine causes major itching and redness of the skin (hives), and may also be released in the airways, lungs, and other vital organs. It causes tissue to swell, can close the airways (causing breathing to stop), and can drop blood pressure to dangerously low levels.

Anaphylaxis can occur after a single bite, but this is rare. More typically, fatal anaphylaxis occurs when somebody gets stung many times (50 to 100), still nowhere near enough times to kill a non-allergic person.

It is possible to be killed by multiple stings. The insect most likely to do this is the infamous Africanized killer bee, which has spread in recent years from Mexico to parts of the southern United States. Contrary to popular belief, this bee is no more poisonous than native varieties, but swarms are highly aggressive and can inflict up to hundreds of stings in only a few seconds. A human can tolerate about 10 wasp or bee stings per pound of body weight and still survive, meaning it usually takes over 1000 stings to seriously harm a healthy adult.

Biting and bloodsucking insects

Many people infected with West Nile virus will have only mild symptoms or no symptoms at all. If symptoms do occur, they usually appear within 2 to 15 days. They may vary from flu-like symptoms that include fever, headache, and body aches (in most people) to meningitis (inflammation of the lining of the brain or spinal cord) or encephalitis (inflammation of the brain). People with weaker immune systems, for instance people with cancer, diabetes, or heart disease, are at much higher risk for the more serious symptoms of the disease. Anyone experiencing signs of severe headache combined with high fever, stiff neck, nausea, difficulty swallowing, vomiting, drowsiness, loss of consciousness, lack of coordination, muscle weakness, or paralysis should receive emergency medical attention.

Ticks cause no symptoms while they're biting. The only way to find them is to examine your skin each night. Serious complications of tick bites (Lyme disease and tick paralysis) normally only occur after the tick has been attached for at least 24 hours. In tick-infested areas, a nightly check is a good idea. For details about the symptoms of Lyme disease, please see the Lyme disease article. The main symptom of tick paralysis is muscle weakness, poor coordination, or paralysis spreading upwards (towards the head) from the site of a tick bite or an attached tick.

Most people can guess at what's bitten them by looking at the site of the wound or welt. Blackflies, for example, leave bites around the head, neck and ears, while fleas often bite repeatedly around the feet and lower legs. Bedbugs tend to leave lines of bites, usually on the torso. While their bites can be extremely itchy, these insects don't cause serious diseases or reactions.

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Stinging insects:

  • honeybees and bumblebees
  • wasps (yellow jackets) and hornets
  • fire ants (a wingless insect found only in the southeastern U.S.)

All three have different kinds of venom, but none is likely to be dangerous in small doses unless someone is allergic to the poison.

Biting and bloodsucking insects:

  • ticks
  • flies (e.g., blackflies, sand flies, deerflies, horseflies)
  • mosquitoes
  • bedbugs
  • fleas

None of them are actually poisonous, but some have saliva that can irritate or provoke a reaction, and others can introduce infections when they bite.

Examples of infections and reactions include the following:

West Nile virus is passed on by the bite of mosquitoes that have become infected by feeding on the blood of infected birds. The first confirmed Canadian human case of West Nile virus was reported in Ontario in September 2002. Although the risk of illness from West Nile virus is low for most Canadians, it is important to recognize the symptoms and understand ways to reduce the risk of contracting this disease. Please see the article on West Nile virus for more information.

Malaria, another serious infection transmitted by mosquitoes, is fortunately uncommon in North America. Remember that travellers to areas where malaria is common who get a fever after returning home should be seen promptly by their physician. These travellers should be considered as having malaria unless proven otherwise (with a blood test).

Lyme disease is caused by the bite of a deer tick that carries a parasite capable of causing disease in humans. People who are infected with Lyme disease may not experience symptoms right away after they are bitten. It is important that people with Lyme disease be diagnosed in a timely manner, as most people respond well to antibiotics.

Other ticks may cause a temporary spreading paralysis if they go undiscovered for a few days. These creatures hang on and suck blood for as long as four days, becoming fatter in the process. After about two days, some species start producing new chemicals in their saliva, which can temporarily shut down parts of the human nervous system. This is called tick paralysis, and it's quite different from Lyme disease. It clears up after the tick is removed, but can be fatal if breathing stops.

Mites that make their living around humans, such as house dust mites, don't bite, but there are bird and animal mites that occasionally attack humans and leave larvae (chiggers) in the skin. These cause local skin reactions in both allergic and non-allergic people. Chiggers cause redness and itching, while adult mites leave a small bite that usually becomes irritated hours or days later. You're most likely to be bitten by a mite if you handle

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Home Remedies

Once the stinger is removed, reduce pain and swelling with a cold compress.

Many traditional remedies have been suggested for bee stings including damp pastes of tobacco, salt, baking soda, meat tenderizer, toothpaste, clay, aspirin or even application of copper coins

As soon as possible, rub apple cider vinegar on the bee sting.

Known as one of the most soothing bee sting remedies, baking soda is mixed with water creating a thick paste and then applied directly on the bee sting.

Take fresh papaya, and slice off a slice. Apply it to the bee stings for about 1 hour.

Take an onion and slice it. Apply the slice to the bee sting and either hold it there or tape it in place for about 1 hour.

If you have suggestions or know of a proven home remedy add it here in the comment area.

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Herbal Remedies

Take freshly crushed parsley and rub it on the bee sting. This should stop the pain and at the same time, begin to neutralize the poison.

Basil is one of the most effective bee sting remedies. Crush up fresh basil leaves and apply them directly on the bee sting.

Make a paste out of St. John's wort oil and bentonite clay and apply it directly on the bee stings. The clay will help draw the poison right out of the bite and the St. John's wort will help eliminate some of the pain with it's anti-inflammatory properties.

If you have suggestions or know of a proven herbal remedy add it here in the comment area.

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Wellness Program

With most bites and stings, the best treatment is to wait for the itching to go away. Ice cubes, aspirin, antihistamines, and calamine lotion can help. Application of an icepack to prevent the venom from spreading and application of a paste of baking soda and water may also help to relieve welt formation. If you are at risk of a major anaphylactic reaction (anyone who has had a severe allergic reaction in the past is at risk), some doctors recommend carrying a syringe filled with epinephrine.* This naturally occurring hormone will open breathing tubes closed by anaphylaxis.

People who are allergic to insect stings may also undergo desensitization. This is only useful for people who have tested positive in the skin-scratch allergy test. By being exposed to small and harmless amounts of venom on a regular basis for a few years, the body's response to the venom is changed, hopefully lowering the risk of anaphylaxis from future stings to almost nothing.

Removing bee stingers usually requires a pair of tweezers. Some specialists say that since the poison sac of a bee sting is still attached after the bee is gone, care should be taken not to squeeze it, as this can force the remaining poison into the wound. Others maintain that it doesn't matter how it is removed. Either way, you should remove it as quickly as possible to minimize the poison dose and the risk of infection.

You should also remove ticks with tweezers. They should be pulled straight out, as this reduces the chance of the head and mouthparts remaining in the wound. This may happen anyway. If it does, pluck out the easily accessible parts, but don't fish around in the wound. These parts are unlikely to cause infection and certainly won't transmit Lyme disease. Don't try to kill the tick with heat or any chemical while it is still attached - just pull it out.

To avoid insects and insect bites, do not wear brightly coloured clothing or strong, flowery perfumes. Do not carry overripe fruit or walk through clover fields. People with allergies to stings should wear identification bracelets. Applying insect repellents may also be useful to avoid insect bites. Wear long-sleeve shirts, pants, and socks for protection.

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