Better Treatments for Bee Stings?
A bumble bee and I got into a little rumble the other day and I ended up with a stinger in my lower leg. Never did find the stinger, but the area around the sting has gotten quite red and infected. Doc has put me on an antibiotic for 5 days (Cephalexin, 500 mg twice a day). Since I try to use antibiotics as a last resort, what are the other options for insect stings?
You're wise to avoid overdoing the antibiotics. If your body can beat an infection on its own, it will be more competent to combat future threats. If you override the system with an antibiotic right away, you weaken your own immunity. (There's also the danger of antibiotic resistance. Over time, frequent use of antibiotics leads to the breeding of more virulent bacteria that aren't affected by existing treatments.)
What to do? Start by using hot compresses on the sting area. The heat dilates the blood vessels and increases healing blood flow to the site of the infection. Also, treat the inflammation locally with full strength tea tree oil, which is a very effective topical antiseptic. The oil is extracted from the leaves of Melaleuca alternifolia, a tree native to Australia. Third, do a course of echinacea. Echinacea, familiar to gardeners as "purple coneflower," is a natural antibiotic and immune-system enhancer. Try a dropperful of tincture of echinacea in water four times a day for 10 days or so. Take at least 1,000 mg of vitamin C twice a day, too.
Only if the infection continues to spread would I then use strong antibiotics. Cephalexin would be one choice. It's a semisynthetic antibacterial, similar to penicillin, originally derived from a microorganism called Cephalosporium acremonium. This is a big gun, so wait a bit and try the other measures first.
On the treatment front, the medical world was abuzz last week. For decades, the advice concerning the proper way to remove the bee's stinger was to scrape it out with something like a blunt knife or a credit card. According to a study in "The Lancet," you should grab and yank out the stinger as fast as you can. Why the change? According to researchers at the University of California in Riverside, if you pluck out the stinger before all the venom is pumped out, you'll wind up with a smaller, less painful welt. But you have to act instantaneously to make a difference. The only problem is that while honeybees always leave a stinger, bumblebees rarely do. That's probably why you couldn't find it. To ease the pain and inflammation, ice the area immediately and then apply a paste made with baking soda and water.