Bees sting to protect themselves or their hive. Any interference with a hive or swarm of bees will cause the guard bees to attack unless they are quietened with smoke. Petroleum products such as kerosene or petrol and garden sprays, paint thinners and hair lacquer irritate bees and may excite them to sting.
Bees will sting to protect themselves if trodden on or trapped in a person’s hair. Bees, like dogs and horses, can sense fear, so if you are afraid of bees, the chances of being stung are greater.
If you are bothered by bees, avoid swatting them. Walk quietly away into the wind with your head bowed and your face covered with your hands.
The bee’s sting consists of two barbed, harpoon-like shafts attached to a poison sac. When the bee stings, small muscles work the barbs inwards alternately with one barb holding as the other penetrates more deeply. Poison from the sac is pumped down the centre of the sting, causing pain.
To prevent the poison entering your skin, remove the sting as soon as possible. The best way is to press down hard with a fingernail on the skin, and scrape the sting out. If the fingernail is not pressed hard enough the sting will not be removed in one action.
Do not grasp the sting to pull it out as this squeezes poison out of the sac as it is pulled. Some of the barbed sting may remain in the skin but this will not cause irritation or pain.
Wash the affected area with cool water to soothe the pain and remove poison adhering to the skin so other bees are not excited by the scent.
Reactions to bee stings
Bee stings are very painful and are often followed by local swelling and then itching as the swelling subsides. The swelling varies from a small reaction similar to an ant or mosquito bite to a swollen area which turns red and itches for three or four days. With a normal reaction, the whole leg or arm may swell.
Repeated stinging will create immunity, with each sting causing less swelling.
Beekeepers, who can be stung more than 100 times each day, usually react until they become immune, which may take from 3 to 12 months, depending on the number of stings.