April 12, 2013

Anaphylaxis Due to Bee Sting

I had to ask, "Is that my official diagnosis?" because, no, my throat did not close up. Not being able to breathe is the severe end of an anaphylactic reaction, so that's the one people know about. Rather than respiratory trouble, I had cardiac trouble and a host of other symptoms.

It's important to know that any reaction away from the sting site is indicative of a systemic reaction, and should be considered life-threatening. My sting was on my right bicep. I'd scraped the stinger out, applied an ice pack, and was completely fine for a full 30 minutes. When I saw whelts forming on my left forearm, I went and got the EpiPens. Then I got stupid. I waited. Alone.

I had a massive sneezing fit like I'd stuck my face in a bouquet of goldenrod which made my heart race, or so I thought. It was more likely low blood pressure which, when it drops low enough, can lead to passing out. Luckily I didn't. I grabbed a face towel to make a cold compress and, while scarfing down antihistamines, glanced in the mirror. I was red from head-to-toe, my eyelids were puffed up, my eyes were completely bloodshot and glassy. My scalp became insanely itchy, starting at the spot of an old sting, and my ears felt super stuffy. The sound of my tinnitus even changed from a car horn to small aircraft. The whelts became full-blown hives. I used the EpiPen. I didn't feel a thing but the blood soaking my jeans told me the autoinjector had, well, autoinjected.

Looking at BB's phone still in his office, I pondered calling 911. I wasn't getting better but I wasn't getting worse. If I called 911 an ambulance would come, and I didn't want the neighbors (if they didn't know already) to find out we had bees by me being carted away in anaphylactic shock. So I sat on the couch and waited some more. Twenty-five minutes after I'd given myself the Epi, BB came home and we headed to the ER. It's about a mile north of home.

NO EMERGENCY SERVICES! We had to drive south 3 miles but we didn't make it that far. Before the ER there's an Urgent Care center, so that's where we ended up. Apparently lots of confused people go there. There's a sign on the door that says the ER is further down the road, but I didn't stop to read it. I doubt anybody does.

From the time of the sting to the time we walked in, over an hour had passed. The massive dose of chewable Benadryl (diphenhydramine HCl) and the EpiPen may have saved my life, but my heart was still racing and pounding so we needed to get the allergic reaction under control. Apparently, in addition to a hyperalert brain, I have an overactive immune system and it was pumping out histamine like crazy. The EMTs gave me more epinephrine, more anti­histamine, and a steroid shot. Then more epinephrine, but I kept rebounding. Finally an EMT decided that the drugs just weren't going through my body correctly because my arteries were so constricted, so I got an IV bag. It pushed everything through and that was that. They sent us home with a new EpiPen 'scrip and stern advice to just dial 911. Next time could be worse. Or not, but why risk it? Now that there are no beehives in The Backyard, there's nothing for neighbors to get pissed about, so I won't be stupid if it happens again.

BTW, there's a reason EpiPens come in 2-packs. I thought it was a matter of the system taking my money, but it turns out that if you're not better in 10-15 minutes, you're supposed to stab yourself again.

LESSON LEARNED: Don't wear a black short-sleeved shirt anywhere near a beehive.

5 comments:

Whizbo said...

I had a very similar experience last year, although I drove to the hospital and waited in the parking lot alone, rather than at home. This spring I put my backyard bees up for adoption :( The only allergic reaction I've ever had, and it had to be bees!

HB said...

Glad to hear from you again, Whizbo! Sorry to learn you are allergic, too. I am researching venom desensitization so I can get my bees back. What about you?

bees said...

Any luck with the venom desensitization? I had a similar reaction when my boyfriend removed the stinger by squeezing it...and of course a good dose of venom followed...

Since my reaction, I got stung once more but had no reaction...I still keep bees.

HB said...

@bees The allergist says I need to be tested for venom sensitivity. Obviously honeybees are problematic, but there are 4 other insects in the hymenoptera family that are possible problems. If I am going to go through Venom Immunotherapy (VIT) it makes sense to be immunized against any other problems at the same time. I agree and disagree at the same time. Fire ants are not found in CO, so why be tested for sensitivity to them? Then again, maybe one day I will travel (wishfully thinking) to someplace with fire ants. At any rate, I can not be tested until 6 weeks from last being stung, so I still have 3 weeks to go. Then VIT involves twice-weekly injections for 3-4 month, then monthly (?) injections for the next 3-5 years. This all has a price tag of about $2,000. There is another therapy called SLIT (sublingual immunotherapy) that is more rapid and may cost less. I need to investigate the option further.

One of the research papers I read on honeybee sensitivity indicated that there is about a 60% chance that the next sting will be worse, once you demonstrate sensitivity. I am happy to hear you were in the 40% and still keep bees. :)

HB said...

@bees Turns out: instead of fire ant they tested for hornets. SLIT is only done with one allergen, an not venoms.

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