There are inherent risks that come with being in nature – whether you’re riding, trail running, hiking, or fishing – a very common one of which is encountering bees and suffering a bee sting. Being stung by a bee can be a painful experience, and for those who are allergic, it can be life-threatening. Read on to learn what to do if you are attacked by a swarm of bees or suffer a bee sting while out on an adventure.
Prevention is the best way to avoid being stung by bees. The following are some tips to help prevent bee stings while hiking or trail running:
- Wear appropriate clothing: Wear light-coloured clothing and avoid wearing strong perfumes or scented lotions. Bees are attracted to bright colours and strong fragrances, so wearing neutral colours and avoiding strong scents can help reduce the likelihood of attracting bees.
- Stay on the trail: Stick to the designated trail and avoid wandering off into areas with high grass, flowers, or other places where bees may be active.
- Keep calm: Bees are less likely to sting if you remain calm and avoid making sudden movements.
- Avoid swatting: Swatting at bees will only make them more aggressive. Instead, gently brush them away with a flick of the wrist or a quick puff of air.
- Carry a bee sting kit: Consider carrying a bee sting kit with you when hiking or trail running. This kit can contain an epinephrine auto-injector for those who have severe allergies, antihistamines, and pain relievers. Learn more about what to pack in your mini First Aid kit, here.
If You Get Stung
Despite taking precautions, it is still possible to get stung by a bee while hiking or trail running. Female bees are the only ones that sting, leaving behind a venom sac with the barbed stinger lodged in the skin that can continue to inject venom until it is removed. So, the first and most important step is to remove the stinger. Symptoms of a bee sting include sudden intense pain, swelling, redness, and itching around the sting, which can persist and worsen until the stinger is removed. The following steps can help alleviate the pain and minimise the risk of an allergic reaction:
- Remove the stinger: If the stinger is visible, remove it as soon as possible using a flat object such as a knife blade or credit card. As we’ve all no doubt been taught since we were youngsters, you should NOT use tweezers or pinch the stinger, as this can release more venom into the skin.
- Clean the area: Rinse the area with water to remove any dirt or debris. This will help reduce the risk of infection.
- Apply ice: Applying an ice pack or a cold compress can help reduce swelling and pain. Keep the ice on the affected area for 10 to 15 minutes at a time.
- Take pain relievers: Over-the-counter pain relievers, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen, can help alleviate pain and reduce swelling.
- Watch for signs of an allergic reaction: For those who are allergic to bee stings, it is important to monitor for signs of an allergic reaction, such as hives, difficulty breathing, or swelling of the face or throat. If any of these symptoms occur, seek medical attention immediately.
If You Are Attacked by a Swarm of Bees
A moving swarm is usually the result of a hive becoming overcrowded or happens when a new queen appears and the old queen and her subject of around 20 000 go on the run. They will move as a unit and might head for temporary lodgings while scout bees look for a new place to settle. Encountering a swarm of bees can also happen when a ‘happy’ hive becomes agitated for whatever reason. This can be a frightening experience, but it is important to remain calm and take the following steps:
- Get away: If possible, move away from the bees as quickly as possible without making big movements. According to this journal article, “Bees don’t form images in the same way that humans do. They use vision primarily to detect motion, and quick or jerky movements near a nest are interpreted as a threat.” The bees respond by stinging and injecting venom. So, as calmly as possible, try to find shelter, such as a car or building, to get inside.”
- Cover your face: Cover your face and head with your hands and arms to protect yourself from bee stings.
- Do not swat: Swatting at the bees will only make them more aggressive. Instead, try to remain still and avoid making sudden movements.
- Wait it out: Once you have found shelter, wait for the bees to disperse. Do not attempt to leave the shelter until the bees have left the area.
- Never jump into a body of water to escape bees. According to this article in Scientific American, they will wait for you to surface.
- Seek medical attention: If you have been stung multiple times or are allergic.