About 1 in 20 people are allergic to honey bee venom. Among those who are allergic, there are definitely varying degrees of allergy. Stings are a hazard of being a beekeeper. There’s pretty much no way to prevent them. Believe me, when I first started I was very worried about this fact. I bought the full ‘moon-suit’ for head to toe coverage (see above). Then I got stung three times in the face through the mesh. That pretty much clued me in that I was gonna get stung no matter what. I came to terms with that. I had almost no reaction to being stung that first time, so I wasn’t really worried about it. Since then, my reactions have been steadily increasing and getting worse.
On Friday, I was out in the yard taking photos of the garden and my hives (I can’t really go near my hives with a camera without taking pictures, It’s a weakness). As I told the nurse in the ER an hour later, I think I caught one of my girls having a fat day. She did NOT like me taking photos. She buzzed into my hair, and I froze, letting her figure her way back out to freedom. When she did, I started walking smoothly away, and she bounced my camera a few times. I was well over 10 feet away from the hive when she came in for one last pass and stung me in the right eyebrow.
A Trip to the Hospital
I went inside and Handyman tried rubbing an antiperspirant on the sting. It’s supposed to help. I started to feel a little off, so I took a Benadryl and laid down to see what would happen. I hadn’t been stung in the face since my local reactions had started getting worse. When my throat started to feel scratchy and swallowing got a little difficult, we headed for the hospital. They kept me there for almost 5 hours and pumped me full of all sorts of interesting things. Epinephrine gives you a really crazy feeling. Eventually, the swelling in my throat started to die down, and I was released with these words of warning:
“The next time, you could die.”
“Try and stay away from the bees at least until you can visit the allergist.”
Appointments To Check Allergic Reactions
Monday morning, one of my first tasks of the day was to call the allergy clinic. However, I was informed their next appointment was in September. Over 2 months away. To say I was horrified at the idea of staying away from the bees until September would be a bit of an understatement. But the real question was not whether I could or should stay away until September, but whether I can, or cannot, continue to keep bees when allergic to their venom.
Weighing The Options
I made out a fancy list of pros and cons. It’s something I’ve been trying to do recently when making decisions that impact more than just myself. Here’s my list…
Pros of Beekeeping
- I really enjoy it.
- It’s a part of a bigger dream I have.
- It can provide allergy relief for my family (ironic, no?)
- Allows Self-Sufficiently by:
- Giving Honey
- Improving our Crops
- Wax Products
- Medicinal Uses
- Possible income source
- Educational for kids
- Helpful for extended family
- Possible to get other family involved.
Cons of Beekeeping
- Time commitment
- Danger of being stung and having a bad reaction (potentially fatal)
Anyone else see the glaring issue here? Because my pros list is awesome! I really do love the bees. I have let the dream die down once or twice because of my disappointment with how poorly I did during my first season, but the more I get stuck into them, the more I WANT to get stuck into them. But the big issue is the idea of a potentially fatal con if they get ‘stuck’ into me.
Are There Other Allergic Beekeepers?
Because of the 1 in 20 chance of having some form of allergic reaction, I figured it made sense to search around and see if anyone else has the same problem. It turns out, there are plenty of beekeepers in the same situation. Not too surprisingly, they have all taken different paths. Some have continued to keep bees. Others have loaned their bees to others while they go through immunotherapy. Still others have given up on beekeeping altogether.
This is, for me, an incredibly tough decision. It seems like it should be a no-brainer to quit something that might have a health risk attached. But honestly, there’s a health risk attached to getting in your car and driving onto the road. There’s a health risk to eating out at a restaurant. Is this a more certain danger than that? Should I quit?
Honestly, I don’t know. It’s the subject of a lot of prayer and study for Lala and me at the moment. I would honestly love to hear your thoughts. I can’t promise I’ll follow advice, but here’s my question:
Should I continue to keep bees, even if I’m allergic?
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Very curious of your decision as I have had a reaction to bee sting way back (when I was kid) and am currently trying to build a homestead and would like to get into beekeeping myself.
I have stayed away from the bees, however, I am thinking about getting back into it. I really miss them. I’ve been stung once, just totally and innocently standing nearby when one took offense. I think it was a descendent of that bee who’s butt I took a picture of 😉 I just had a local reaction, it was pretty severe, but not systematic.
I’ve heard that some people get used to the venom and it doesn’t bother them after a few stings. I wasn’t one of those lucky ones. Hard to say what is the deciding factor. I’d say give it a try, just don’t do it alone, so that you can be ready for a trip to the ER in case things go awry.