What should you keep on hand for treating bee and wasp stings?
∆ Bite, sting, or wound ∆ Localized pain, redness, swelling, and stinging with
∆ Stinger visible in the skin
A bee or wasp sting that requires emergency room treatment may include any or all of the following:
∆ Difficulty breathing
∆ Swelling in the throat
Bee and wasp stings are a common hazard of outdoor activities in warm weather. The stinger of a bee has shafts that become embedded in the recipient’s flesh. In these shafts, there is a venom sac that releases a toxin into surrounding tissues. The bee itself dies after the stinger is torn from its body.
Bee and wasp venom contains a variety of enzymes, including mast cell degranulation peptide. This protein causes mast cells in the skin to release histamine, which in turn causes an allergic reaction that causes the skin to swell and isolate the foreign body left by the insect. The severity of the reaction depends on the number of mast cells in the skin available to release histamine. Once the mast cell degranulates, that is, when it has broken open, the histamine it releases may cause redness, itching, swelling, and pain.
Most bee and wasp stings do not require medical care. However, about 5 percent of adults in Europe and the United States suffer whole-body reactions to bee and wasp stings, and about 1 person in 100 has a risk of severe, potentially fatal anaphylactic reactions. Re searchers have recently discovered that people at risk for anaphylactic reactions have high bloodstream levels of the enzyme tryptase, an activator of mast cells. Blood tests are being developed to detect tryptase so that people at risk for severe reactions can carry EpiPens for emergency treatment. Until the tests are widely available, anyone who has ever had a severe reaction to a bee or wasp sting needs to carry emergency equipment.
There are some natural remedies for relief of minor bee and wasp stings:
∆ Papain: applied to the area of the sting as soon as possible.
∆ Simicort cream: applied after first aid to area of in flammation.
If you have a tendency for severe allergic reactions, there are natural remedies you can take on a preventive basis:
∆ Glycyrrhizin: 250–500 mg daily for up to 6 weeks at a time.
∆ Green tea catechins: 250–500 mg daily.
∆ Vitamin C: 2,000 mg per day.
Understanding the Healing Process
Reactions to bee and wasp stings occur in minutes and usually last several hours. Two herbal products help speed up the healing process. Papain, a digestive enzyme extracted from papaya, is applied directly to the sting to relieve swelling. Licorice creams such as Simicort perform many of the same functions as steroid creams but without their side effects. One of the components of licorice, glycyrrhetinic acid, potentiates the effects of the natural anti-inflammatory hormone cortisol by inhibiting the enzyme 11-beta-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase, which converts cortisol to an inactive form. Licorice-based creams soothe and relieve pain.
There are also several herbal treatments that offer some protection against severe allergic reactions and help emergency medications work better. Glycyrrhizin is a licorice extract taken internally rather than as a cream. It increases the half-life of cortisol and other steroids, making it more likely that you will have adequate levels of the steroid in your system to fend off an anaphylactic reaction the next time you are stung. In the People’s Republic of China, glycyrrhizin is given instead of adrenaline to treat anaphylaxis.
The drawback of using glycyrrhizin for this purpose is that it will increase any side effects you experience from cortisone prescribed by your doctor to prevent allergic reactions. When you take both glycyrrhizin and any corticosteroid drug, you are more likely to experience weight gain, puffiness, and elevated blood pressure. (Glycyrrhizin has no effects on your body’s responses to the other commonly prescribed preventative agent, diphenhydramine, better known as Benadryl.) Do not take glycyrrhizin for more than 6 weeks at a time. Preferably, use it during your peak allergy season. Do not take glycyrrhizin if you have high blood pressure.
A safer but less researched complement in allergy care is green tea. Catechins from green tea (and, to a lesser extent, from the black tea more commonly drunk in English-speaking countries) have been shown in laboratory tests with animals to significantly reduce the risk of allergic anaphylaxis. The protective effect of the catechins is enhanced by caffeine. This stimulant stops the breakdown of norepinephrine, a hormone in the same class as the epinephrine in EpiPens.
Green tea catechin tablets do not contain caffeine. They are safe to use if you have high blood pressure. They work better if you also consume caffeine, but you should not take caffeine if you have high blood pressure.
Many, but not all, of the destructive physiological reactions in anaphylaxis are mediated by histamine. Vitamin C is a natural antihistamine. Vitamin C prevents the secretion of histamine by mast cells and accelerates its degradation. Laboratory experiments have found exponential increases in the release of histamine when vitamin C is deficient. Research with animals indicates that taking relatively large doses of vitamin C offers protection against anaphylaxis without interfering with the production of antibodies against infection. It’s also helpful to know:
∆ To avoid getting stung, stay away from areas with bees, use fragrance-free toiletries, do not wear dark or floral clothing, wear closed-toe shoes, and avoid eating outdoors in picnic areas or near garbage cans where containers for sugary drinks are thrown away.
∆ Desensitization shots (venom therapy) are strongly recommended for anyone who has ever had a whole-body reaction to a bee or wasp sting. Not everyone is protected against whole-body reactions once they have reached the maintenance dose; some people will require larger than normal doses of venom therapy before they are fully protected against stings. Don’t be careless around bees and wasps just because you have had the shots. First aid for bee and wasp stings for people who are hypersensitive:
∆ If the victim has coughing, wheezing, or shortness of breath, keep the airway open. Do not allow the victim to lie down. First aid for bee and wasp stings for people who are not allergic:
∆ Remove the stinger as quickly as possible. Scraping and pinching off are equally effective. Pinching off the stinger does not result in a bigger welt.8 Do not use tweezers, however, since tightly pinching the stinger will release more venom into the skin.
∆ If the victim has coughing, wheezing, or shortness of breath, keep the airway open. Do not allow the victim to lie down.
∆ Wash the site with lukewarm water and soap. Cover it with an ice pack or a fizzy paste of baking soda and vinegar. Papain (an herbal ingredient in meat tenderizer) also relieves swelling, but should not be applied with baking soda and vinegar.
∆ To avoid swelling, remove rings, watches, and jewelry that may restrict circulation. Do not raise the site of the bites above the level of the victim’s heart. ∆ Do not apply a tourniquet.
∆ Do not give aspirin or other pain relievers to the victim unless prescribed by a doctor.