Stephen Durham is Professor of Allergy and Respiratory Medicine at Imperial College London, and works at the Royal Brompton Hospital. He said: “For most people summer is all about getting out doors and enjoying the sunshine. But for those who have in the past experienced a serious allergic reaction to wasp or bee stings it’s a time of increased anxiety as the chances of getting stung – potentially fatally – also go up.
“We’re trying to raise awareness by explaining the dangers and the signs to look out for, as well as the treatments that are available within the NHS that can dramatically ease the health concerns of sufferers and their families.”
Common triggers of anaphylaxis include foods such as peanuts and drugs such as penicillin, other antibiotics and drugs used in general anaesthesia. Stings from wasp and bee usually cause local painful reactions which although inconvenient, do not cause problems. However, a small proportion is at risk of severe allergic reactions, including anaphylaxis.
According to guidance from NICE, stings caused more than 70 per cent of all deaths from anaphylaxis in the UK between 1992 and 2001.
In fact, NICE estimates nearly one in 100 people in the UK may be at risk but they may not even know it because after the first sting there is sometimes not enough of a reaction to show that an allergy has been triggered.
However, large local reactions are not uncommon and in general not harmful. Symptoms of anaphylaxis include itching commonly affecting the palms, soles, groin area and scalp, general 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.
Sufferers who have experienced severe allergic reactions should try to avoid wasps and bees and, if stung, immediately treat the symptoms with an adrenaline auto-injector as well as calling for an ambulance. All such patients should be referred to an NHS allergy clinic for further assessment. In people with confirmed allergy, a longer term solution may be venom immunotherapy treatment (VIT) which can change the way a patient’s immune system reacts when stung and is highly effective in preventing anaphylaxis in the future.
Forestry manager David Simpkin (47), from Nottinghamshire, is undergoing the treatment after he was attacked by a swarm of wasps and became one of the estimated one per cent of adults in the UK for whom a wasp or bee sting can provoke the potentially fatal allergic symptoms of anaphylaxis.
David said: “The first five to six weeks I went there [for treatment] it did make me feel quite unwell for the rest of the day. But since I got to the stage where the dose can go higher, I can go in and have the injection and an hour later I can go. It’s proved the point that it’s worth doing.
“Now I know that if I get stung I can sit down, put some ice on it, take some antihistamines and it will be okay. It gives you the security that on a day to day basis you will not get into too much trouble. It’s reassurance for me and my family.”
The Bee Resistant campaign is being funded by pharmaceutical company ALK, which supplies some of the products used in the treatment of venom allergy. The campaign includes an easy-to-understand website – www.beeresistant.com – as well as the publication of leaflets which will be available for patients concerned about bee or wasp venom allergy.
For further information, visit www.beeresistant.com
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