I’m surprised by the number of people, including physicians, who don’t realize how treatable bee sting allergy is. Bee venom desensitization is perhaps the best studied and most effective of all forms of allergy desensitization. Since allergic reactions to bee venom can be life threatening, its one of the most important things an allergist can do.
It is important to distinguish between toxic and allergic reactions to bee venom. Toxic reactions are a direct result of the venom and allergic reactions are, obviously, an allergy to the venom. Reactions that are contiguous to the site of envenomation are generally toxic, while reactions that are distant to the site of envenomation are generally allergic. In English: Stung on the toe and leg swells up= toxic; Stung on the toe and lip swells up= allergic. Toxic reactions can be severe and still not be allergic.
So, how well does venom desensitization work? The numbers were worked out at Johns Hopkins in the 1970’s. They took people with documented bee sting allergy and performed sting challenges by having them place their hands in a box full of bees! (Where do I sign up!) They found that people with bee sting allergy had about a 1 in 3 chance of having a full blown allergic reaction with each subsequent sting. Once these people had been desensitized, the chance fell to about 1 in 30!
If you or someone you know has had a reaction to a bee sting, seeing an allergist can, quite literally, be life saving.