Playing it Safe

By Jim Tipton

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As summer beckons us to spend more time outdoors gardening, exercising or relaxing in the yard, it also beckons other creatures - insects, bees and yellow jackets. Most of the time, they leave us alone if we leave them alone. But, occasionally, they bite and sting, ruining an otherwise perfect day.

Most people get over bites and stings in time to weed the sweet peas or go for a stroll by afternoon, reacting only mildly. A mild allergic reaction - including swelling, redness, pain and itching - can cause an undue share of misery.

But a small percentage of the population reacts violently to insect bites and stings. Recognizing the difference between an ordinary immune response and a severe allergic reaction can mean the difference between life and death.

Severe Reactions

Within minutes from the time an insect bite or bee sting occurs, toxic effects follow. A severe allergic reaction, or anaphylaxis, occurs when any of these symptoms are present, for which immediate emergency care is required:

  • swelling of the lips, tongue, or throat
  • trouble breathing
  • hives
  • dizziness
  • nausea, cramping, diarrhea or vomiting
  • loss of consciousness

Large skin infections and reactions to a bite or sting also call for immediate care. According to HealthLinkBC, shock may occur if the vital organs are not supplied with an adequate amount of blood.

Pest Prevention

Avoiding severe reactions is key to outdoor safety, and managing your surroundings helps prevent this from occurring. In addition to staying alert outdoors and using insect repellant according to directions, other steps also help.

Keeping drinks covered, especially sweet drinks like juice and pop, is one way to help keep insects away. The yellow jacket, a common name for a predatory wasp, seems particularly attracted to sugary liquid, but its behaviour is somewhat predictable.

“Yellow jackets tend to only be aggressive if provoked or if they feel their nest is threatened,” says Bill Melville, quality assurance director in the pest management industry.

Homeowners should monitor their homes frequently for hives and nests. When food is brought outdoors, special precautions should be taken.

“When picnicking outdoors,” says Melville, “keep food in tightly sealed containers and cover pop cans, as yellow jackets often enter cans unseen.”

Treatment Tips

If all precaution fails, and a bee sting or yellow jacket sting occurs, panicking could worsen the outcome. Move as calmly as possible away from the area, brushing away the pest. Although yellow jackets can sting repeatedly and fly away to sting another day, bees leave their stingers in the skin. If stung by a bee, remove the stinger quickly by scraping it with a fingernail: squeezing the area surrounding the stinger forces more venom into the skin.

Insect bites can be treated with a cold, moist cloth three to four times a day for 15 minutes at a time. Hydrocortisone cream or calamine lotion helps reduce itching and swelling. Finally, resting the affected area on a pillow above the level of the heart helps prevent further swelling.

And after a run-in with yellow jackets, bees, or any other outdoor insect out to get you, there may be no better remedy than a good, long rest - indoors, of course!


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