‘My GP told me I may never have woken up’: oblivious to the potentially life-threatening allergic reaction he had suffered, Simon was lucky to be alive after falling asleep following a seemingly innocuous bee sting.
A national campaign supported by us, is kicking off this summer to highlight the dangers of anaphylaxis from wasp and bee stings – and the importance of awareness, prevention and treatment to beat the condition.
Lynne Regent, CEO, Anaphylaxis Campaign said: “Summer is about enjoying the outdoors and the warm weather but for those who have experienced a serious allergic reaction to bee or wasp stings it’s a time of increased anxiety as the chances of getting stung – potentially fatally – significantly increase.
“The Bee Resistant campaign is about raising awareness of anaphylaxis and educating the public on the dangers and symptoms to look out for, as well as the treatments that are available that can dramatically reduce the potentially life-threatening effects of getting stung.”
Usually, stings from bees and wasps only cause small reactions, which although painful, are not dangerous. However, according to the NHS, nearly one in 100 people are at risk of allergic reactions and a small number of these will go onto develop anaphylaxis1.
The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) states stings caused more than 70% of all deaths from anaphylaxis in the UK between 1992 and 20012. For one keen bee keeper, this became all too real when he was stung by a bee in the summer of last year.
For most beekeepers, the thought of getting a serious allergic reaction to a bee sting is far from the focus of their attention. Experienced beekeepers will tell you that honey bees are generally docile and seldom sting unless provoked. But for keen beekeeper Simon Cavill (55) a seemingly innocuous sting led to a potentially life-threatening allergic reaction.
“I started beekeeping 13 years ago and had been stung plenty of times before with no real side effects,” said Simon, who lives with his wife and two children near Basingstoke, Hampshire.
“Then one day, I was beekeeping as usual and was stung by a honey bee. This wasn’t that much of a shock as it comes as part of the territory. However, unlike a normal localised reaction, I started to come out in hives and a rash all over my body.”
“I started to feel quite unwell and due to the reaction having spread all over my body, I took a double dose of antihistamines and went to bed thinking that I’d be better in the morning.”
Unbeknownst to Simon, he had actually suffered a severe and potentially fatal anaphylactic reaction. 1% of the UK population is at risk of an allergic reaction and a small number of this experience potentially life-threatening allergic symptoms of anaphylaxis1, but like Simon, most are unaware they are at risk.
“I woke up the next morning and didn’t feel at all well, so went straight to my GP. When I arrived she diagnosed my symptoms as anaphylaxis and told me that I was lucky to have woken up that morning. It was quite a shock when she told me that, I had no idea it was that serious.” He added.
Fortunately for Simon, he was referred to the Royal Surrey County Hospital in Guildford where he started undergoing immunotherapy treatment. Venom immunotherapy treatment is a three to five year treatment course in which people like Simon are given injections of gradually increasing doses of the relevant purified bee or wasp venom to build their resistance. It starts with very low doses and has to be administered in specialist clinics by medical professionals – there are about 60 NHS specialist allergy centers around the UK.
Simon is due to complete his treatment at the end of the year and it’s helped him to feel much more confident whilst beekeeping.
“I’ve been stung a few times recently with no ill effect, but I do still try and avoid getting stung wherever possible! I’ve introduced my now 17 year old daughter to beekeeping when she was seven and she loves it, in fact she’s represented England in several national beekeeper competitions – she’s very aware of the risk around anaphylaxis now which makes me feel a lot better.” He said.
Now an expert beekeeper and Trustee for the British Beekeeper’s Association, Simon founded Bee Good, an award-winning natural skincare brand.
“As a keen beekeeper I had a lot of honey and excess beeswax around, so I decided to put it to good use. We founded Bee Good in 2008 and it’s been a great success winning numerous awards and is now sold through several national retailers.” Said Simon.
Dr. Patrick Yong, Consultant Immunologist from the Royal Surrey County Hospital where Simon is undergoing treatment, said: “We have quite a number of patients in Surrey and the surrounding areas undergoing a similar treatment. Bee venom patients, like Simon, who are often outside, can have their lives severely affected by the anxiety of suffering another life threatening reaction to a sting.
“Thankfully, treatments that are available can reassure them that they are far less likely to have a severe reaction if stung again and they can enjoy a summer of beekeeping without having to worry.”
“Venom anaphylaxis is serious and can be life threatening. I would advise anyone who has had a severe reaction to a bee or wasp sting to visit their GP for medical advice and ask to be referred to an allergy clinic.”
Symptoms of anaphylaxis include itching commonly affecting the palms, soles, groin area and scalp, generalised hives, swelling of the lips, tongue or throat, difficulty in breathing, tightness in the chest, faintness or dizziness and a feeling of fear or impending doom.
In case of an emergency:
- If an adrenaline device is available, use it without delay if you believe the reaction is severe, or becoming severe
- Dial 999 and call an ambulance immediately
- Keep the patient lying down
- If they recover quickly, it is still important to go to hospital for observation or visit their GP in case of delayed or repeated reactions
Local (i.e. at the site of the sting) allergic reactions do not require emergency treatment, cold compresses or pain killers can be used to quell the burning sensation caused by the sting. Keeping a swollen limb elevated can also help to ease the pain and antihistamines can be taken to help reduce swelling and itching. For people who suffer from a large local reaction, steroids can help to speed up the healing process. The earlier they are used the more effective they are. In the case of a larger reaction which may require steroids, always seek advice from a doctor or nurse first.
To find out more about the campaign visit www.beeresistant.com or follow them on Twitter @BeeResistant. If you are concerned about anaphylaxis, visit your GP or contact the Anaphylaxis Campaign on 01252 542029.