Beekeeping is not only popular among homesteaders but is an activity that is pursued by many people simply as a hobby. Most of us have had the painful and unpleasant experience of a bee sting, and some people’s reactions to the venom are worse than others. Does the risk of many stings for a beekeeper mean that they should consider keeping an EpiPen available for a possible allergic reaction to a sting?
It should not be necessary for beekeepers to carry an EpiPen as part of their gear, but the choice you make should be depending on your experience and allergy status. If you have presented with abnormal reactions to bee stings in the past, it would be better to consult a doctor as to the best procedure and precautions to take. Prevention is better than cure, so take the proper precautions.
Bees are unpredictable as any other wild animal, and working in close quarters with them poses risks for the beekeeper. There are measures that the beekeeper can take to minimize the risk and protect themselves from getting stung in the first place and steps you can take if you happen to get stung.
What Is An Epipen For?
An EpiPen is basically a dose of adrenalin, called Epinephrine, and it is generally used in EpiPen form to treat anaphylactic shock caused by a severe allergic reaction.
The EpiPen is a delivery mechanism to get the adrenalin into your system as quickly and efficiently as possible without having to fumble around with syringes and bottles when you are in a life-threatening emergency situation.
The EpiPen is a cylindrical shaped device with a needle at one end and the dose of medicine in the cylinder. The mechanism is activated when you press it into the skin of your thigh. The needle penetrates the skin, and a measured dose of adrenalin is administered into your system. The device is simple enough that children can operate it in the event that they need it, and an adult is not around.
Epipens are expensive and have a relatively short shelf-life, often only in the range of 18 to 24 months. If you need to carry an EpiPen, you should be keeping an eye on the expiry dates and replace the unit before it expires.
Who Needs An Epipen?
Normally, only people who have a history of a life-threatening allergy or who have had a severe allergic reaction to an allergen in the past, such as a bee sting, should consider carrying an EpiPen.
With regards to bee stings, if you have had a sting that resulted in abnormal swelling or rashes, then you could be a candidate for carrying an EpiPen. Once you start to exhibit extreme reactions to a bee sting, the next time you get stung, you could have a similar bad reaction or a worse reaction.
An EpiPen would normally be prescribed by a doctor, and you can normally only access this medication if you have a prescription for it. If your reaction to a bee sting has been severe but not life-threatening, the doctor may suggest immunotherapy, which is designed to desensitize you to the bee venom so that the next time you are stung, the reaction is not so severe.
Immunotherapy is, however, no guarantee, so if your doctor suggests this treatment and you work with bees on a regular basis, it would be advisable to carry an EpiPen in your gear.
Some beekeepers argue that they should carry an EpiPen to use on someone else who may get stung around their hives. There are some possible legal ramifications doing this, and keeping an expensive item in your gear that has a short shelf-life for this unlikely possibility is just not practical.
Know Your Status
As a beekeeper who is exposed to the bees on a regular basis, you have probably had a sting or two. If you have displayed abnormal symptoms such as excessive swelling, itching in areas other than the sting, dryness of mouth, tingling lips, clogged sinuses, then you should probably get yourself tested for bee allergy to be sure of your status.
In my experience, the location of the sting can cause different reactions; for example, I have had a sting on the nose and on the ear, which did not have much swelling, just burning, throbbing, and itchiness. Yet a sting I received on my finger caused enough swelling for my finger to feel like an overstuffed sausage!
If you have a bad swelling reaction no matter where you get stung, rather get yourself examined by your doctor and ask him for a recommended course of action.
Unfortunately, even if you have never had a bad reaction to a bee sting, you can develop an allergic reaction at any time. This is a risk many of us beekeepers are willing to take, but it is also a reason to always take the necessary protective measures to minimize the possibility of getting stung in the first place!
Prevention Is Better Than Cure With Beestings
I always watch American and European beekeepers with amazement as they open a beehive without any protective clothing! To do this is a totally and literally a foreign concept to me.
I am a beekeeper in Africa, so my bees are African honeybees that are notoriously aggressive and unpredictable! I would never consider opening a hive without wearing a full bee suit and gloves (in some cases, I even double-glove).
If we are going to be doing extensive bee work in difficult circumstances, we even double-layer with jeans under our bee suite as well as a long sleeve shirt to give added protection on the arms.
We always wear our veils and even have gaiters around the tops of our boots where the bee suit can sometimes pull up and expose bare skin! Bee stings to the ankle are not fun!
For this reason, I never approach a hive without appropriate PPE, and I am of the opinion that our European and American counterparts could learn a thing or two from this, which would reduce the incidence of bee stings among beekeepers.
As a precautionary measure, if we are going to do some intensive bee work, we take an over-the-counter antihistamine so that the anti-allergy medication is in our system before we start working with the bees. This helps to reduce symptoms should we pick up a sting.
Believe it or not, our bees are so persistent that we occasionally get stung through our bee suits and layers of clothing! It is amazing how the little creatures manage to find the gaps or where the layers are stretched tight across your skin, allowing them to penetrate.
Here are some safety measures that we take when dealing with our highly aggressive African bees, and if our compatriots abroad take similar measures, it would in all likelihood minimize, if not eliminate, getting stung when you work with your milder mannered bees.
- Take an antihistamine before working with a strong swarm or colony.
- Always suit-up in your full bee suit, including gloves. The gloves may be cumbersome for some tasks, but you get used to it and learn to make adjustments. Consider double-layering your clothing for working on strong colonies.
- Always work in pairs. We adopt a similar buddy-system that scuba divers use. We check each other’s bee suits for gaps and potential access points before we go in. We also check each other for stray bees when we exit the bee site to remove stragglers, as often the time your get stung is when you are removing your bee suit, and there are a few stray bees on your suit.
- While you are working the bees, regularly smoke yourself and your bee suit with the smoker. If a bee has stung your suit, the smoke will mask the pheromones that attract other bees in attack mode!
- If your bees are in a built-up area, only work them at night. They are less prone to swarm and attack neighbors and passersby or pets and livestock. They also settle down quicker at night after the disturbance. We find that if we work the bees during the day, the hive stays in aggressive mode the entire day and will sting anything that comes past for the rest of the day!
Working with aggressive bees, we have found that these precautionary measures, a good helping of common sense, and learning to recognize the mood of a hive go a long way to preventing getting stung in the first place!
As a beekeeper, I am of the opinion that this is the modus operandi that we should all adopt, not only for our own safety and those around us but also to prevent the bees from getting a bad rap for simply defending their homes.
Personally, I do not carry an EpiPen in my bee gear, but I do carry oral antihistamines and topical antihistamines. I also take precautionary measures that people who have never dealt with African bees may consider extreme, but the measures have definitely helped to reduce the number of stings.
It is not advisable to take people on a tour of your bee sites unless they are in a bee suit. You don’t want to be responsible for an unfortunate incident!
The choice to carry an EpiPen or not is up to the beekeeper and their unique circumstances, so while it is not necessary and often not practical for most beekeepers, you should decide based on your own circumstances.
If you are displaying reactions that indicate that you could have an anaphylactic reaction to a bee sting, you may even have to re-evaluate whether you should be keeping bees or not. If there is any doubt, rather consult your doctor and get their medical opinion and base your choice from an informed perspective.