Apiphobia or ‘melissophobia’ (from Greek melissa meaning “honeybee”), is an irrational fear of bees and other stinging insects that is becoming more common in today’s society. The fear of bees among (non-phobic) adults is often due to a lack of knowledge.
In the United States, most insect stings are actually caused by Yellow-jacket wasps. This is because they are often confused with honeybees. Unfortunately, this irrational fear of bees can be detrimental to the environment since bees are important pollinators. When people destroy wild colonies out of fear, it can lead to further environmental damage. Beekeepers have seen their efforts hindered as well because it becomes increasingly difficult to find locations for their colonies given the growing public objections.
People who truly suffer from apiphobia often have an irrational fear of these creatures. This often manifests in panic attacks and other physical reactions. In addition to the phobic reaction, some people may also experience medical symptoms. These can include difficulty breathing, dizziness, and chest pain when confronted with a bee or wasp. Fortunately, treatments to manage their fears are available for those suffering from apiphobia.
It is estimated that about 3-5% of the population suffers from apiphobia. This number is likely higher due to the fact that many people may not even realize that their fear is a problem. The rate of apiApphobia among children is higher than adults, with an estimated 8-10% of children affected by it.
How to Treat Apiphobia
Exposure therapy is often an effective treatment for those with a fear of bees. One such method is to start by visiting a comfortable, open environment such as a park or garden. The aim is to gradually move closer to the bees over a prolonged period of time. Photographing the bees on a camera or smartphone can also help, as viewing them remotely provides a more comfortable way to become accustomed to their presence. It may take several months of watching the bees before people feel confident in their presence. Learning about bees and their ecology can further help rationalize fears and put into perspective that they do not want to sting people. For children with bee phobias, facing fears through training is usually an effective approach in treating specific phobias.
Why Bees Sting
Bees sting primarily as a defense mechanism when they feel threatened. They rarely sting unless provoked. Most honeybees die after stinging a person because their stingers are barbed and become lodged in the skin. When they try to fly away, the stinger and venom sack is pulled from their bodies, causing the bee to die shortly afterwards. It is for this reason that bees are very unlikely to sting without provocation or feeling threatened in some way.
While any person can be stung while walking in a field or garden, the primary victims are beekeepers. This is why they use a bee smoker to calm the bees. Another, although rare danger exists for those who happen to be in their path during an angry swarm. Bees are smart, they can smell floral fragrances and communicate with each other, so they may approach the wearer to check out the source.
Female bees (workers and the queen) use their stingers to inject venom into the skin which is painful for most people. Male bees (drones) cannot sting because they have no stinger. Whether or not a bee stings also depends on environmental conditions as well as human behavior; understanding the behavior of bees and taking necessary precautions when interacting with them can help to reduce the chances of being stung.
Bee Stings are not all bad!
Bee venom, injected by the stingers, is composed of proteins that can interact with the skin and immune system. A bee sting is painful and the site of the sting often gets inflamed. People allergic to bee stings may experience a stronger or more serious reaction due to their body’s immune system response to the venom.
Bee stings are also used in apitherapy to heal or get relief from some medical conditions. The bee venom is used to treat a variety of ailments such as arthritis, chronic pain, and neurological conditions. It can help reduce inflammation in the body, and even stimulate the immune system’s production of cortisone. As a result, some people are able to experience relief from their symptoms due to the healing properties of bee venom.
First Aid for Bee Stings
- Stay calm!
- Remove the stinger – When stung by a bee, the barbed stinger is usually left behind in the skin. This barb is connected to a venom sac that empties its contents into the wound until it is removed. Because of this, it’s important to get rid of the barb as soon as possible.
- Cool the area of the sting – If at hand, use an icepack and cool the area. Do not leave the ice on the skin directly, use a piece of clothing between the skin and the ice and do not leave ice on the area continuously as this can make it worse. Keep re-applying (on-off) the icepack at frequent intervals for as long as necessary.
- Depending on the location of the sting, if possible elevate the area to avoid further swelling
- If the symptoms worsen, seek medical advice immediately
If someone is allergic to bees, immediately dial the emergency number and ask for an ambulance. Keep a close eye on the person and remain calm. If ice is available, ask the person to suck on an ice cube to reduce swelling of the airways. Warning signs of an allergic reactions are wheezing or coughing, a developing rash on the trunk or entire body, and swelling around the face, eyes and neck.