An Experience of Anaphylaxis

Beekeeping & Apiculture Forum

Help Support Beekeeping & Apiculture Forum:

This site may earn a commission from merchant affiliate links, including eBay, Amazon, and others.

Roy S

House Bee
Mar 12, 2009
Reaction score
uk, Huyton, Liverpool
Hive Type
Well I'm now up and about after a very eventful 24 hours that I really dont fancy repeating again in a hurry!!.

I apologise for the length of this post but if theres a chance someone may learn something from my stupidity then its worth it.

After 20 years of beekeeping and God knows how many stings over the years, I was poleaxed while going through newbie BKA members hive that was giving her problems (swarming that is not aggression)

I started going through her colony that was a propolised mass of mismatched combs, and managed to find over 40 queen cells all emerging as quickly as I could find them! The workers had obviously done a sterling job of keeping the queens in their cells during the cool weather, but as soon as the workers dispersed during the manipulation out popped all the queens! at one stage I was watching three virgin queens running round the same comb!

Anyway by the by, I managed to sort out the mess as best I could and get the hive back into some resembalance of order, only to move a super full of brace comb and drop a couple of hundred bees onto my shoes!!

They managed to give me two of the most painful stings I remember in a long time to my ankles. after removing the offending stings I managed to finish of the job as best I could and was trying to start sorting out 10-15 virgin queens we had in various queen cages, matchboxes etc.

After this things started going pear shaped pretty quickly, I started getting the pear drops smell in my nose, a metallic taste in my mouth and I started to sweat uncontrollably. shortly after this over a period of a couple of minutes I started to feel dizzly and slightly nausious also a overwhelming tiredness started to take over. At this point an ambulance was decided on as a wise precaution.
A few minutes after calling the ambulance, I couldnt support myself sitting up and had to lie down. I tried to crawl further away from the hive so the ambulance crew were in no danger and managed to move maybe another three feet before I finally couldnt move any more and had to wait where I was.
Help finally arrived in the form of a rapid response unit and an ambulance. By this point I was barely conscious and pretty much incoherent, not being able to recognise a simple request for my surname!!!

Between the medics and the ambulance crew they managed to carry me around the side of the house, over a pile of builders rubble and into the back of the ambulance. The last real thing I remember seeing was the horrified look on passers by faces as they were trying to quickly remove my beesuit and get rid of any hitchhiking bees before putting me in the ambulance.
At this point they removed my shoes and found a 10-15 stings still embedded inside my sock.(so much for only having two stings)

I also vaguely remember them getting concerned when my blood pressure fell below 70 over 40, at that point they gave me adrenaline and I was then given the full siren and blue flashing light treatment.

By the time I reached casualty my condition hadnt really improved, so was placed in the resus unit where finally the arenaline started to kick in and I ended up with almost uncontrollable shakes for two hours

I finally stabilised 3 hours after the ambulance was called and had to sheepishly explain why I hadnt worn my normal boots to my wife Rach who had been patiently waiting by my side for me to regain some sort of control.

The reason??:

I went out on Saturday afternoon to my BKA apiary meeting and wasnt expecting to be close to the hives and was going more to socialise, so wore only my walking shoes. But while there was introduced to the member who was having problems with her hive, so I volunteered to have alook on the way home as I was passing by that way anyway. I didnt even think it would be a problem if I was stung as I normally shrug off any stings anyway.

WRONG!!!!!! I couldnt believe how quickly things changed during this episode, and the speed everything went from normal to a possibly fatal was VERY sobering.

The doctors on duty confirmed anaphalaxis and I've now been prescribed an Epipen and steriods for emergency use in the event of any more stings that start to cause any more symptoms

They were baffled by the length of time it took for the onset of symptoms after the stings, and the only thing I can think of is that it was caused by the amount and potency of the venom injected rather than any allergy or hypersensitivity.

Whatever it was PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE everyone please respect the bees in your care, they are not fluffy cute little critters, you have in your care animals with the potential to inflict FATAL injuries to yourself and others.

Dont assume that because you have had no reaction to stings that you wont have in future. I did and have now got a new found respect, even though I greatly respected them anyway.

Sorry about the huge post but I really do believe after recent beekeeper fatalies, that there are a few more just waiting to happen.

Be safe people, the world would be a lot duller without even ONE of you


Glad you are still with us, very lucky indeed. It just goes to show that those who tend to their bees wearing no protection are risking death. It only takes one bee sometimes to start the rest of them off. Hope you make a speedy recovery and still manage to keep bees with your new found respect.:cheers2:
I'm glad you are OK Roy. :iagree: Stings can be so dangerous.

It concerns me the amount of new bee keepers who rely on bee forums or a book to get by week after week and even worse a lot of these colonies are placed in an urban garden surrounded by neighbours on all sides.

A box of fireworks waiting to explode. :angelsad2:

Hope your well now Roy and not put off from beek'ing.

Glad you are now OK.

I always try to remember to take the mobile phone when I am out at the bees.

PH has been a bit ridiculed re his recent warnings, but there is always that risk of dropping something, something going decidedly 'not to plan' - I have dropped a frame of bees, in the past, far enough to raise mayhem!

I've not yet been stung this year. I walk past - no through - the cloud of bees entering and exiting a couple hives in the garden, just holding my collar to prevent any bees flying down my shirt and getting trapped. I daresay it will happen that one will feel threatened and get me, but not particularly maliciously. Some of the others away from home are decidedly frisky and require more precautions and a great deal more respect from the safety angle.

Yes, particularly 'new beeks' beware of the dangers. You don't go working on the mains electricity without precautions. Bees can give you a shock too!

Again, glad that you are here to tell the story. Something you will remember the rest of your beekeeping days, I am sure.

Regards, RAB
Thanks for the kind words everyone. Other than feeling like I've been run over by a bus, and aching from head to toe I'm fine.
I couldnt agree more about the potential time bombs waiting in people back gardens though!
This New Beek had only joined our branch this year, after recieving her bees last year without ANY tutition. She is very keen to learn but had greatly underestimated how intimidating a full colony can be and was feeling well out of her depth. She was mortified at the state of the colony when we finally managed to prise the crown board off and get inside to go through them. I have no doubt that she has learned a lot from it and the potential for disaster if things do go wrong. I went round there today to thank her for her prompt action in getting the ambulance and to check if her colony was OK.

They seem to have calmed down nicely, and has a couple of nucs now too

As for hasnt put me off in the slightest, just made me more wary of going through my own colonies on my own!!(something I wont be doing until I find out how I react to the next sting!) a practice that most of us do without thinking I suppose?, but how many of us have a contingency plan if things DID go wrong? or tell people exactly where and how long we will be, and what we will be doing with our bees before we go to our apiaries?

It sure makes you start to think
Glad to hear you are ok Roy.

You have just made a very good point regarding a new beekeeper buying a Nuc and then soon after find they are inspecting a full colony and it being a very different kettle of fish.
I think it is irresponsible to sell a nuc or give a swarm to someone who cannot handle bees. Not fair on the bees either.
Thanks for the post Roy.

Funnily enough, I had been too complacent with my bees recently and wore only trainers instead of my usual wellies....I got some 8-10 stings on the ankle. It reminded me to not treat them so casually and sweetly but with the respect they so eeringly deserve.

I will never forget the words of PH in one post about beekeepers putting hives into their back garden. It went something along the lines of, you can keep your bees their for 20years with no problems, but it only takes once for something possibly out of your control, to completely lose all manageability of a hive....and if you have ever lost the control of a full colony, then it is a terrifying experience.
Ever since then, I always took the words of PH and other experienced beeks on here as valuable words to implement.

There has been another time in my short beekeeping career, that I didn't wear gloves and got some 20+ stings to my hands. They swelled (and itched) so much that I couldn't even hold a glass of water. I had a severe fever and was talking gibberish for the rest of the night. My whole body was pulsing and the room was spinning.

Never again will I trest bees with complacency.
Their docility is not an invitation to disuade with caution, respect and care.

Thank you Roy for this.
as a family just entering our second year your experience shocks me a little. Thank you for sharing it. I hope you are fully fit ASAP.
This year is a little intimidating as so much new is happening or going to happen in the next few months.
I have been on my honeymoon and haven't checked my girls for about 10 days...what with my trip and the weather.

Whilst away we went to Florence, to the Cathedral. My new wife spotted a crowd watching a swarm on the side of the cathedral. An Italian beekeeper turned up to deal with them. He had absolutely no protection and his smoker went out in a couple of minutes. He continued as he had quite a crowd by now. He was being torn to shreds, I counted at least 20 stings in a couple of minutes, head, back, legs and hands. We had to leave but I was quite angry at his stupidity.
Take care and I will think of you when I visit the girls tomorrow
Roy, is your doctor making further enquiries on your behalf? I really think that you should not go near your bees until you have this sorted. There are hospitals across the country willing to desensitise people. Until then you are at risk of another anaphylactic shock. It may not happen next time, it may be the same, or one sting could send you unconscious or worse, possibly with insufficient time for you to do anything about it.

Allergy centres will do a RAST test to assess your level of allergy ti bee venom, and they also ought to be able to offer you desensitisation. I've been through it. Without it, even if you give up beekeeping, you will always be at risk.

'Sobering' story indeed Roy, good luck with your plans and hope you can keep on track with bees.

Are these your first stings this year since last season?

Glad you are ok and stil alive Roy but I agree with Gavin. DO NOT take the chance on your life till you get the allergy test done and consider your options then. I have really bad hayfever and had a lot of allergies as a child. I am fine with bees but have epipens issued for me as a precaution. Even my boys have then as they may have inherited a problem. We have an understanding GP. If I had taken a reaction such as yours I would be nowhere near my bees until getting tested and desensitised if it worked. I would try and get a beekeeper friend to look in on my bees for me or locate them at the association apiary. If I could not get that sorted and as a last resort I would risk the swarm. Better to be alive. Next time you might not get that chance. Stay safe and good luck.
Very Good Post, Pleased you are ok.

I always tell new beekeepers, A hive of bees has the capacity to kill, this must always be remembered.

Well Roy I'm pleased you lived to tell us the tale.
I dropped a frame with a very small amount of bees onto my boots last year and got one sting on the ankle. It was painful and swollen for several days and taught me a lesson about always wearing wellies.

I was talking to a new beekeeper the other night and she insists she will not wear gloves (she only wants "black" bees which in my experience just love to sting) and thinks eventually she will manage without a veil.

I was tempted to invite her to my angry hive but instead gently counselled caution - not sure if it sunk in though.
PeterS - I would forward this thread to your beginner. I cannot understand people who don't take proper precautions with bees.

I have suffered from over 50 stings on my legs when I was a schoolboy looking after the school bees that had been abandonded (and gone exceedingly feral). Luckily I was fine, but it hurt and is something I wouldn't want to repeat.

We all make mistakes, like Roy - I got a nasty sting from forgetting to do my veil up in time, and have often been stung in the past on the ankles after wearing little lower protection.

Moral - wrap up well else be prepared for a battering !

Glad to hear Roy is over the worst !


It's not often, but in this case I agree wholeheartedly with Gavin - grab your doctor either by the throat or the cojones and humbly suggest they get you properly tested and desensitise you before you go anywhere near your bees again.
I'm utterly horrified that you'd appear to have nearly lost your life, and noone has taken the time or had the sense to warn you not to risk another sting until you're well sorted........
If you are allergic to something (it needn't be bees, it can be penicillin, peanuts or a million other things) there is a very strong chance that you're now hypersensitive, and the onset of dire symptoms could be far faster than what you recently experienced.
As an illustration, aged parent has been warned that another dose of penicillin could finish her off - last time she had a reaction it was as a result of picking up and moving a closed bottle of tablets....... You cannot be too careful!
Glad you're ok, and that you haven't lost your nerve -just please, get tested and desensitised!
Roy, is your doctor making further enquiries on your behalf? I really think that you should not go near your bees until you have this sorted. There are hospitals across the country willing to desensitise people. Until then you are at risk of another anaphylactic shock. It may not happen next time, it may be the same, or one sting could send you unconscious or worse, possibly with insufficient time for you to do anything about it.

Allergy centres will do a RAST test to assess your level of allergy ti bee venom, and they also ought to be able to offer you desensitisation. I've been through it. Without it, even if you give up beekeeping, you will always be at risk.


Thanks again for the kind words people, and yes Gavin my doctor is making enquires into what happened and I'm not ruling out desensitisation. I've visited my doctor this morning to keep him in the loop, and he is as baffled as I am. Normally anaphalaxis is swift in its onset, mine took over half an hour from the first sting.

He has advised caution, but agreed providing I carry the epipen, do not go through my bees alone and protect myself he doesnt foresee an end to my beekeeping.

In answer to the question "is this my first sting this year?".....No, I had my last stings on my hand last wednesday when going through my bees with no adverse reaction whatsoever, and had had a good few previous to that this year already.

I'm not one to promote bravado in this craft, and to be honest I cringe when I hear people encouraging beginners to "feel the bees" by not in my eyes wearing proper protection in the form of gloves...especially as in many cases new beek's don't know how they will react to stings!

Even though I was stung a few times through my suit on saturday, the only evidence I have this morning of any stings, is in the area around my ankle where the bad ones where, I'm pretty certain that it was the fact I didnt realise how many stings I recieved, or the severity of them that got me into the situation. I should have moved away and checked them before carrying on. Definately a lesson learnt.

I posted here mainly to illustrate how quickly a normal manipulation CAN go wrong, and what can happen when it does. rest assured I won't be taking any unneccessary risks until I get to the bottom of what happened.

I have been advised by both my doctor and emergency staff at the hospital at length regarding future treatments and posible consequences, but I felt my post had babbled on far to much as it was without adding another half page to it. It does make me think though, How many stings does the average beekeeper need before they suffer like I did? having also discussed it with other beeks in our branch it seems once we reach our "envenomation threshhold" if you want to call it that, we are all in danger of similar things happening to us.

thanks again everyone

stay safe

Last edited:
Many thanks for your post Roy, it sure is a sobering thought. pleased you are ok, but as has been said. needs to be followed up.

Your post would be good as a sticky!
Dear Roy, glad to hear you are OK, I've been a paramedic now for 15 years so have seen anaphylaxis before and know dangerous it can be. most of the ones I've seen are either food or Wasp related however they always come across the radio as "bee stings" (bad PR!). The one that stands out was a man that had disturbed a wasp nest and ended up jumping into a river to escape them. He had recieved 40 to 50 stings over his entire body, it was more likely the amount of venom rather than anaphylaxis but he was still very poorly, thankfully he made a full recovery and his surname?..............Buzby!!

Latest posts