Testing for bee venom allergies before my honey wings it as a beekeeper
April 16, 2018 1:04 PM   Subscribe

My significant other has decided to become a beekeeper. We're both buzzing with excitement--the hive arrives next week. He doesn't think he's ever been stung by a honey bee before, and he can't recall having any adverse reactions, but we've heard that allergies can change/worsen with age. I'd like to avoid discovering that one of us is severely allergic after the fact. What is the easiest/fastest/cheapest way to get tested? Are there direct-to-consumer tests that you'd recommend, or are we stuck making an appointment with an allergist?
posted by houseofleaves to Health & Fitness (14 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I can't imagine anyone selling a direct-to-consumer test that might include the possibility of anaphylactic shock. I think an allergist is your best bet.
posted by dawkins_7 at 1:32 PM on April 16, 2018 [5 favorites]

Talk to your pcp. An allergist is probably overkill but you can call and ask specifically about your pcp offering this test. The best solution is likely for them to just prescribe an epipen given that there are false negatives and positives with allergy testing.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 2:01 PM on April 16, 2018

I learned from an episode of Sawbones on Bee Venom Therapy that you can become allergic at any point in time to things like bee venom. This article talks about what to do to deal with that.
posted by foxfirefey at 2:06 PM on April 16, 2018 [2 favorites]

Go to an allergist. It's honestly a super fast appointment, especially if they're only testing a few things. It's a few scratches on your forearm or back and waiting a few minutes. You should also speak to them about how to handle an increased reaction or allergy which as stated above, can happen.
posted by Crystalinne at 3:11 PM on April 16, 2018

I did the allergist approach. took less time than I expected, and that way you have the added bonus of doctors if something goes wrong.
posted by evilmonk at 3:12 PM on April 16, 2018

Even if you test "not allergic", allergies can be unpredictable so it would probably be prudent to get an epipen, keep it in a climate-controlled place that's easy to access, and know when and how to use it.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 3:39 PM on April 16, 2018 [4 favorites]

I'm an Emergency Physician/Toxicologist

Diagnostic tests for HVA (hymenoptera venom allergy) are limited to patients with a history of a systemic reaction to Hymenoptera venom. For patients with no history of systemic reaction, TESTING IS NOT RECOMMENDED

The research on this is rock-solid. MeMail me if your want links to specific papers
posted by BadgerDoctor at 4:04 PM on April 16, 2018 [21 favorites]

Tell your doctor that you are planning to take up beekeeping and see if s/he will prescribe an EpiPen you can keep on hand just in case. All three beekeepers I know keep an EpiPen around even though none of them have an allergy to bee stings to their knowledge.
posted by xylothek at 5:07 PM on April 16, 2018 [3 favorites]

I had never been stung when I started keeping bees. I just went to a regular doctor for a checkup I needed anyway, and I told him "hey I just started keeping bees and I've never been stung, can I get an epipen just in case?" He wrote me a prescription and that was that.

(Pro tip: don't stand in front of the hive entrance, or the question of whether you're allergic will be answered immediately and violently)
posted by showbiz_liz at 6:55 PM on April 16, 2018 [1 favorite]

1) Get two epinephrine auto-injectors

About 20 percent of patients require more than one dose of epinephrine to curtail anaphylaxis. You might be one of them.

2) If you have any of the following conditions

Cardiovascular disease

or if you take

Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors

your prescribing physician HAS TO know
posted by BadgerDoctor at 8:40 PM on April 16, 2018

Tell your doctor you are getting into beekeeping and would like to get a prescription for an Epipen, or for a generic epinephrine auto-injector. You might want to check with your insurance first to see what is covered, so you know exactly what to ask for.

It doesn't really matter if you are allergic right now or not, particularly for someone who hasn't ever been stung. Allergies can develop later.

Even if you aren't allergic, if a friend or their child gets stung and then stops breathing and falls over unconscious... Well, it's illegal to share your prescription medication with someone else, so I'll not advocate violating the law v.s. maybe watch someone suffocate to death while you wait on an ambulance that you don't know if it will be there in time.

I have a relative who learned to do an emergency tracheotomy on their spouse in case of a sting when backcountry hiking away from help -- this was back in the days before epinephrine auto-injectors were available, and long before cell phones or satellite phones. If you can afford to purchase a set of epinephrine auto-injectors, you should.
posted by yohko at 8:55 PM on April 16, 2018 [2 favorites]

One more reason to get an epipen: you may be able to provide it to someone else who's allergic and your bees stung her.
posted by kmt at 3:48 AM on April 17, 2018

showbiz_liz - I wish I understood your comment about 'standing in front of a hive' - I've stood in front (about 3-5 feet away) of our hives many times, and the bees just zip past me with no problem! I wouldn't do it wearing dark clothes (that *can* be a trigger for bees - maybe they think you're a bear?), and if a guard bee shows up (I can tell them by their buzz - it's distinctly threatening), I gracefully exit until she loses interest.
In ten years of having hives (my husband is the beekeeper), and gardening in close proximity, as well as observing when hive maintenance is in process, I've been stung maybe two times.
posted by dbmcd at 11:19 AM on April 17, 2018 [1 favorite]

I've stood in front (about 3-5 feet away) of our hives many times

Oh, I meant while working on the hive, when you're standing right next to it and have the lid open.
posted by showbiz_liz at 11:53 AM on April 17, 2018

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