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By John Kennedy

The sting of a bee or wasp is a defence mechanism – it is to protect them from us.

The sting is poisonous and painful, and can cause severe reactions. Most people get a painful sensation at the time of a sting and the area swells and reddens.

Some people are particularly sensitive or allergic to stings. They have a life-threatening reaction called anaphylaxis which results in swelling of the face, difficulty breathing and a rash over their entire body.

This is a medical emergency and must be treated as soon as possible, so call the ambulance. People who are allergic often carry medication to treat this reaction and usually have identification bracelets to alert those around them of this.

John Kennedy

Those who are not allergic still need to remove the sting as soon as possible. Try not to squeeze the sting, as it may continue to push in venom, so use a sharp edge to scrape it out, such as a credit card, rather than using tweezers.

Clean and cool the area using cool water and cloths or a cold pack to ease the pain and swelling over the area of the sting.

Generally, bee and wasp stings do not cause intense itching, but mild steroid creams are helpful for the swelling and inflammation around the sting. Pain-relieving and antihistamine medicines are also helpful, particularly if there are multiple stings.

Some stinging insects are attracted to bright coloured clothing and perfumes so try to avoid these if entering an area where there is a possibility of being stung. It is also helpful to remove any beehives or wasp nests nearby, and covering up exposed areas of skin with clothing, gloves, socks and hats if you are entering areas where you know there will be bees and wasps.

Your community pharmacist is able to advise you of the correct treatment for bee and wasp stings, and can help you lessen the possibility of stings in the future.

If anyone in your family is allergic to stings, then your pharmacist can ensure that you have the right emergency medicine and treatment options to lessen the possibility of life-threatening stings.

John Kennedy, of Moyles Pharmacy, in Timaru, is a member of the Pharmacy Guild of New Zealand, an organisation which represents community pharmacists nationwide. Visit www.pgnz.org.nz for more information.