The Stings of Summer

The Stings of Summer

By the time August rolls around, bees, wasps and hornets are everywhere. Getting stung hurts like the dickens and for some people it's downright dangerous.

Last summer Jaynie (who asked us not to use her last name) was riding her mountain bike in the hills above Ashland.

"I pulled my glasses down so I could see in the shadows better, and just as I did, a bee got caught between my eye and my glasses," she remembers. "The bee stung me on the side of my nose, right under my eye," she says, shuddering as she remembers. Somehow, she went head first over the handlebars, bee-stung, helmet cracked, and chin bleeding and cut to the bone. A good Samaritan stopped to help: "The first thing he asked me, 'Are you allergic?'"

There's a big difference between a painful bite and an allergic reaction, and for those who are acutely allergic, anaphylaxis can be life-threatening. So despite her injuries, Jaynie counts her blessings, "The worst is for people who are allergic and I was lucky that I wasn't."

Dr. Cindy Konecne sees a fair number of insect bites at Valley Family Practice in Central Point. A sting will typically cause pain, itching and burning, with redness and swelling at the site itself, she explains. "With an allergic reaction a sting will cause a bigger hive and more swelling."

Anaphylaxis is a severe systemic reaction that can occur within an hour of a sting. Dr. Konecne ticks off the symptoms: "Hives and itching all over your body, a huge outbreak everywhere, followed by shortness of breath, wheezing, nausea and abdominal cramps. Put ice on it immediately and take an antihistamine," she advises. "It can help to control the allergic reaction and you should be seeking care immediately."

A couple of years ago, John Laughlin of Ashland was stung on the arm and found he was severely allergic: "Suddenly I started kinda scratching, and itching and then I realized I was getting hives. And then my upper lip was swelling." After a day, the hives and facial swelling went away, but his arm stayed swollen for a week.

John was smart. He made an appointment with a specialist and found out he was allergic to wasps, honey bees and bald-faced hornets. He started a series of triple-venom allergy shots to increase his tolerance to venom and now carries epinephrine to counteract the allergic effects of a sting. "It's given me peace of mind," he says. "I like to sail and go hiking in the woods, and the thought of having a major reaction that could effect my respiratory system is scary."

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and outdoor enthusiasts know that bee stings are nothing to play around with. Bart Baldwin, with Noah's River Adventures, is well prepared for stinging insects: guides have first-aid training and carry epinephrine, antihistamine and a satellite phone in case of emergency. "We take precautions beforehand, but it's better to train people how to assess the danger and stay away from it," states Baldwin. "They're (bees) not aggressive, and so if you don't swat at them and just brush them off, they're not going to bother you," he advises. "If you start swatting at them and start punishing them, they may come at you."

According to Baldwin, a trapped bee can become aggressive, too. "If you get one stuck between your toe and your sandal or in between your fingers, somewhere where they can't escape, they'll sting you," he says.

These are lessons Jaynie learned the hard way: "The first reaction is to bat it away - but it's dangerous," she says ruefully. Keeping calm and putting some distance between you and the bee is your best bet.

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