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AskUs: If you are allergic to bees, does that mean you are allergic to all types of bees?

So one of our readers asked us this question the other day: If you are allergic to bees, does that mean you are allergic to all types of bees?

ANSWER

First of all, while many insects might bite and/or sting, only one species of bee – the honey bee (apis mellifera) – is the one we normally think of. It has a much larger barbed sting than other bees or wasps and is the kind of species which dies after stinging you. (I want to point out that bees don’t always die when they sting; this only occurs when the bee stings a creature with thick skin, such as most mammals, where the barbs get stuck in the skin.)

When the honey bee stings you, it releases an apitoxin (literally a “bee poison”) which contains histamines (as well as other toxins) which can cause and accelerate inflammatory responses such as swelling; in highly allergic people, the sting can also lead to anaphylactic shock, which is just our immune system going way out of control.

Other insect bite/stings (such as wasps, certain ants, and kissing bugs) can also trigger the immune system to react wildly. It is interesting, however, that people are usually not highly allergic to all of these – someone who is allergic to bee stings might not be allergic to wasp stings or vice versa, which proves that the venom isn’t the same across all species.

The chemical makeup of venom varies between types of bee, wasp, or ant (all are in order Hymenoptera). So it’s entirely possible to be allergic to venom from one or two different kinds, but not be allergic to venom from other types. Here is a graphic that depicts chemical compositions of different types of Hymenoptera venom

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