There’s really no need to be concerned about bee stings, unless you are among the very small percentage of people who are severely allergic.
But if you decide to take up beekeeping, you will be stung occasionally; all beekeepers are.
Most of you have probably been stung before, but for those who haven’t, let’s be honest about bee stings: they hurt!
But bee stings are something you will get used to, both psychologically and physically.
Most people who are rarely stung will have some localized swelling at the site of the bee sting. But beekeepers that have been stung many times often develop immunity to the bee venom.
Any tolerance that beekeepers build to stings doesn’t make them immune to the initial pain of the bee sting, but it does minimize or eliminate the swelling.
Some beekeepers even intentionally get stung regularly – even daily! They believe that regular bee stings help diminish the symptoms of arthritis.
(I'm not one of those beekeepers; I take stings as they come, but I sure don't seek them out!)
Even if you’re not a beekeeper, it’s helpful to know what to do if you get stung (this information applies only to the honey bee sting – not the stings of other insects).
When a bee stings you, barbs on the end of the stinger cause the sting to remain embedded in your flesh. This is much to the detriment of the bee, since she disembowels herself as she pulls away from the stinger and later dies.
But the stinger continues to pump venom into your body, even after it has become separated from the bee.
So the longer the sting is embedded in your skin, the greater the dose of bee venom you will receive. And, of course, the more venom you receive, the greater will be the effects of the sting.
Once you’ve been stung, you need to remove the stinger as quickly as possible, but you must take care in how you remove it. If you pinch the stinger between your fingers, as you would to remove a thorn, you will squeeze more venom into your body.
Instead, use something flat and stiff – fingernails, a credit card, even a knife blade – to scrape the stinger away. Doing this quickly will minimize the effect of the sting.
After you’ve been stung, stay alert to how you’re feeling. Even if you don’t think you’re allergic to bee stings, any systemic reactions to the sting should be taken very seriously.
It is normal to have pain, swelling, redness and itching around the site of the sting. But a doctor should immediately evaluate any bee sting reaction that affects the entire body - that includes swelling, itching or hives that occur in areas other than immediately around the sting.
Removing the sting quickly and carefully to minimize the dose of venom you receive is the single best thing you can do for a bee sting. Beyond that, I don't know of any bee sting remedy that makes much of a difference.
Ice may help to reduce the swelling. (If you know of an effective bee sting remedy, please tell us about it below.)
There are bee sting kits you can buy, but I've not known of one to help much.
But after you've been keeping bees for a while, you won't worry much about bee stings. When you're stung, you'll just remove the stinger and go on about your business.
Contrary to what many believe, honey bees are NOT aggressive creatures. I’ve opened and thoroughly examined hives countless times without receiving a single sting.
Think about that from the perspective of the bees...
A giant comes along, rips off the roof of their home and dismantles the entire structure. He pulls a piece of their nursery completely out of their home, with their sisters clinging desperately to it as the giant holds it to the sky, turning it this way and that, examining their babies.
And sometimes, the giant even steals some of their hard-earned treasure to boot.
All of this, and not one single bee attempts to sting the giant. That’s pretty tolerant!
On the other hand, there have been times when I worked the bees at the wrong time of day, or in the wrong weather conditions, or when I was not properly prepared or equipped.
And the bees made me pay the price for my carelessness!
As a beekeeper, working your hives with care and taking some precautions can minimize the number of stings you receive.
By learning the proper techniques for working a hive, being properly equipped, and making certain that your bees are of a gentle stock, you can really minimize the amount of stings you receive.
I've just duplicated a beginning beekeeper's first season by building a hive and ordering bees. (Read about it here if you wish.)
I went through the entire season and was stung only one time from that hive. And that was because I was inspecting the hive wearing a short sleeve shirt, and a bee flew up the sleeve and got trapped.
If I were a real beginner, I doubt that I'd have been inspecting the hive in a short sleeve shirt!
Please don’t let apprehension about bee stings prevent you from becoming a beekeeper (unless you're allergic).
Stings are naturally of major concern for most beginning beekeepers, but be assured that the longer you keep bees, the less you’ll worry about bee stings. A sting will hurt for a few minutes, maybe itch for a few hours, and then be forgotten.
But the joys of beekeeping can provide a lifetime of pleasure. What a shame it would be to give that up just to avoid an occasional moment of pain!