Thursday, June 20, 2013

Yellow Jackets: Scourge of the Earth, or something...

I started to do some mowing and tree trimming on Tuesday. I am trimming up a bunch of trees along the road I live on, as well as mow a field. It all belongs to a neighbor who doesn't mind if I do the work. In fact, I've been mowing this field for him for several years now - to the benefit of us both - and I am finally trying to trim up the trees so they don't rip my face off when I mow under them. And to reduce the ladder fuels as well.

I had been working on to the very first tree on my neighbor's side of the property line for maybe 20 minutes when I felt a sharp pain in my right hip. Inside the pocket. It hurt. A lot.

No sign of the critter, but it had all the hallmarks of a yellow jacket sting. Only then did I note the nest in the ground, not three feet from where I was standing. Grrr.

So I backed off, made sure I wasn't about to die from anaphylactic shock, and kept working, just a bit farther away.

Maybe half an hour later I noted that the inside of my left elbow was starting to itch. Odd... no bites or stings or anything... just a consistent itch. Keep working.

Half an hour after that, though, my elbow is covered with small pustules and swollen up. And itches like mad. Grrr. Again.

Take a break. Wash the elbow clean and examine. No bite or sting marks that I can see. Slather on some topical antihistamine. Examine hip. Clear sting mark and minor swelling. Slather on some antihistamine there too. Start wondering...

Two years ago I was stung by a yellow jacket on my left elbow, just about where it is all swollen now. Could the new sting on my right hip cause the swelling on my left elbow?

The rest of the day goes along without additional excitement. That evening the elbow swelling recedes, but the hip swelling (and pain) increase, then decrease overnight, then increase again the following morning.

And continue increasing during the day. Grrr for a third time.

Finally, despite the fact that I am not obviously dying, I decide to go see a doctor. Mostly about whether the new sting could cause my left elbow to swell than about the swelling in my right hip.

And here's the takeaway from this blog post. Things I didn't know:
  • Less than 1% of people have an allergic reaction to bee stings. That means that unless it itches - or your neck swells up and you cannot breathe - antihistamines don't help. This makes sense in my case. The antihistamine did nothing at all for my hip. Maybe it helped the elbow, but then again maybe not. There is no way to be sure without extensive testing, which given the situation is something I would rather avoid.
  • The doctor says he has never seen an infected bee sting either, and he has seen hundreds of them over the years. That means antibiotics are wasted treatment for them too.
  • The swelling around a bee or yellow jacket sting is actually a reaction to the toxin the little blighter has pumped into your system. It can make your whole arm or leg swell up before it resolves itself, but there is nothing much you can do about it. Maybe some pain killers if it hurts too much, but all that stuff we were taught about allergic reactions and the like: wrong. Unless you're part of that tiny group that actually has one, or you're stung in the mouth.
  • There is no pattern to whether later stings are more or less bad than earlier stings. You never know.
  • Oh, and get the stinger out ASAP if the bee left one stuck in you. Don't worry about squeezing it, just pull the thing out to get it to stop injecting more toxin into your body.
So the doctor told me not to worry about the sting. It will work itself out just fine, and given I hadn't already gone into anaphylactic shock - and the sting site didn't itch - I didn't have an allergic reaction to it. Wait it out is all I can do. OK.

Beyond that, though, my question about whether the new sting could have caused the site of the old sting to swell up and itch was new to him. He didn't know the answer, but said he would try to look it up. It does happen in some cases with poison oak, he knew, so it is at least an interesting question. If I hear anything from him about it, I will share that.

This morning the swelling on my hip is down again. Maybe it will swell back up, maybe not. And the elbow is basically back to normal. Life goes on.

Finally, if anyone knows of a way to render yellow jackets completely extinct - wiped from the face of the earth - with no side effects, please share it. We live with skunks, spiders, bees, wasps, poison oak and maybe scorpions and rattlesnakes (though I haven't seen any of those in 21 years), but yellow jackets are definitely the worst. They all need to die. Now.

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