Why do bees sting and how to treat stings, naturally

In the midst of a decline in honeybee colonies, it seems prudent to respect the bees that cross our paths. Swatting, smushing, and spraying should be avoided—and remember that when a honeybee stings you, she dies.

In a hive, the female worker bees are the bees that sting. The larger male drone bees don’t have stingers. Queen bees also have stingers, but they rarely leave the hive to use them. When a bee stings you, its sharp, barbed stinger pierces the skin to inject venom called apitoxin.

When a honey bee stings a person, it cannot pull the barbed stinger back out. It leaves behind not only the stinger, but also part of its abdomen and digestive tract, plus muscles and nerves. This massive abdominal rupture kills the honey bee. Honey bees are the only species of bees to die after stinging.

According to beekeepers though, it’s rare to be stung by a honeybee. One of the only reason honeybees sting, is to protect their hive, as a defence mechanism. What most people think of as a bee sting, are actually from a wasp.

What to do it you do get stung, ouch!

If a stinger is left embedded in the body, then remove it as soon as possible. This should be the first step. Use whatever tools are immediately available to dig it out. You could use a knife, credit card, pliers, tweezers, or a needle. Sterilize the tool if possible, but do not waste time. For maximum absorption, clean the area with soap and water before applying remedies, otherwise the oils on the skin will repel them.

Baking Soda: In the case of bee stings, baking soda will help to neutralize the acidic venom. Make a paste by combining baking soda with water. Leave this paste on the sting site for at least 15 minutes. Some of the dissolved baking soda will leach through the skin to neutralize the venom somewhat. After applying it, and cleaning the sting area of residue; a chamomile tincture may be repeatedly applied for any residual itching or swelling.

Lavender and peppermint essential oils: These essential oils help disinfect bites and soothe itchy skin. In most cases, these oils are safe to apply directly to skin, but all essential oils are potentially irritating, so test them on a small patch of skin before applying liberally. If you find the oils too strong, add them to clay, olive oil or vegetable oil before applying.

Ice: Try applying ice to the bite or sting. Anecdotal evidence shows that this simple remedy may be the most effective at providing immediate relief.

Lemon: Lemon juice seems to stop the allergic reaction to bug saliva. Rub a piece of lemon on bug bites to soothe them.

Yellow onion: “The onion’s detoxifying sulphur compounds help neutralize the poison of the bite or venom of the sting, reducing inflammation,” says Andrea Candee, author of Gentle Healing for Baby & Child. Just slice open an onion and rub it on the bite. Repeat as often as necessary until itching stops.

Know what to do when you’re exposed to bees

If a few bees are flying around you, stay calm and slowly walk away from the area. Swatting at an insect may cause it to sting. If a bee stings you, or many insects start to fly around, cover your mouth and nose and quickly leave the area. When a bee stings, it releases a chemical that attracts other bees. If you can, get into a building or closed vehicle.

Allergic to bee stings? Prevention strategies can help you minimize your chance of getting stung by bees.

• Take care when drinking sweet beverages outside. Wide, open cups may be your best option because you can see if a bee is in them. Inspect cans and straws before drinking from them.

• Tightly cover food containers and trash cans.

• Wear close-toed shoes when walking outside.

• Don’t wear bright colors or floral prints, which can attract bees.

• When driving, keep your windows rolled up.

• Be careful when mowing the lawn or trimming vegetation, activities that might arouse insects in a beehive or wasp nest.

• Have hives and nests near your home removed by a professional.

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