According to Dr. Richard Weber, a physician at the National Jewish Health Center in Denver, Colo., that initial reaction to a sting may be as severe as it gets. "Most people tend to have the same kind of reaction, same severity the next time."
Bee venom, when injected in small amounts, appears to have unexpected benefits in lessening the severity of a sting.
Venom therapy, which was developed in the 1970s at Johns Hopkins University, can help treat non-fatal, but serious allergic reactions to insect stings.
"Once it's (the allergic sensitivity) in your system, any future sting could cause a systemic reaction," said Golden, who worked with a team in the venom therapy study. "Clinically, a lot of people have been sensitized. Having an allergy in your system is like having a dormant allergy. What makes it start to cause problems is not known."
In a study, each volunteer was given an initial sting to measure his/her response; then 19 members got venom shots once a week over a summer and 10 received no shots.
The control group members' responses to stings did not change, but those who were injected with the venom showed 50 percent less swelling on average.
After the first summer, both groups received venom therapy for up to four years. Following two or more years of injections, both groups had 60 percent smaller swellings on average than initial treatments.
"Most people who do get these large allergic swellings don't need [venom therapy] unless they get frequent and unavoidable stings, but for those who do suffer reactions every year, it does provide a very good level of protection," Golden said.
Bee sting allergy symptoms often begin with a dry cough, according to Penn State's Milton Hershey School of Medicine. The sting area begins to itch and swell and as symptoms progress, the patient begins to sneeze and wheeze, and develop hives that itch.
These symptoms may be warning signs of a dangerous condition called anaphylaxis. Symptoms include sudden anxiety and weakness, difficulty breathing, tightness in the chest, very low blood pressure, loss of consciousness, and shock. Anaphylactic shock can occur within minutes and result in death. A patient in anaphylactic shock needs immediate medical treatment.
To minimize the risk of being stung, don't use flowery colognes, soaps, or lotions, or wear brightly colored clothing, which attract bees. If a bee is near you, move away. Do not swat at the bee, which may aggravate it. Make sure any bee or wasp nests around your home are removed and destroyed.