Aug 18, 2023

Been stung? Here’s what to do next

With bumblebees busy at work in crops, there is always a chance that you may get stung. Bumblebees are generally peaceful insects, only stinging when they feel cornered or their hive is disturbed.

Bumblebee stings normally cause a localise reaction, but a small number of us are allergic. Here we provide a simple guide to the symptoms and what to do in different situations.

Local reaction - common

If stung by a bumblebee most people have a local reaction, resulting in redness and itching in the vicinity of the sting. If stung where the skin is looser, such as eyelids, the swelling can be more pronounced.

Local reactions normally disappear quickly but can sometimes last a couple of days. However, be mindful that a sting in the mouth or throat can be dangerous, due to the risk of suffocation, and an emergency admission to hospital is necessary.

What to do

If you are unlucky enough to get stung, local reactions can be relieved with ice. Creams have little effect, while antihistamine tablets can be effective to some extent and can prove beneficial in allergic reactions.

Allergic reaction - rare

An allergic reaction to bumblebee venom (sting) is rare, nevertheless it does require immediate attention because of the possible seriousness.

Allergic reactions generally produce a larger local reaction – possibly affecting an entire limb − and can precede a generalized allergic reaction ‘anaphylaxis’.

Thankfully rare, allergic reactions normally occurring within 30 minutes of the sting and are characterized by symptoms on body parts away from the sting.

What to look out for

  • nettle rash with itching, swelling of face / neck
  • unexpected intestinal complaints (such as vomiting and diarrhoea), and/or dizziness, abundant sweating and cold shakes
  • respiratory reactions - tickle in the throat with a cough, chest tightness / squeezed throat causing difficulty breathing
  • in serious cases, the heart and vascular system can react: drop in blood pressure, loss of consciousness and anaphylaxis shock may occur.

What to do

  • Remain calm and call a medical doctor or hospital emergency service as soon as possible, explaining clearly what has happened.
  • If the person feels dizzy, get them to lie flat with their legs raised.
  • General reactions are treated with injections of adrenaline, antihistamines and corticosteroids.
  • In cases of respiratory problems an adrenaline inhaler or an epinephrine injection can be used.
  • Cardiovascular problems must be treated in a hospital as quickly as possible.

The advice given here is for guidance only and is not given by a professional medical advisor. If you are in doubt at all, you should always consult a doctor/medical practitioner.