Last Updated on December 28, 2022 by Jeremy
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Before getting bees, I read just about everything I could on the hobby to make sure it was something I wanted to get into due to its high starting costs.
One question I saw come up again and again was what to do if you are allergic to bees. The advice often runs the spectrum from “that is a really bad idea” to “I'm allergic and have never been stung” and everything in between. But as people with their own allergies, some on the riskier side, we have a simple answer to this question- no, you should not keep bees.
Justifications People Tell Themselves to Ignore Their Allergy
One thing we have noticed time and time again is that even people with severe allergies may tempt fate in the right context. Angie is allergic to tree nuts, but will still eat food that is “processed in a facility that has tree nuts.” I am allergic to cats but still go to places where there are cats even though I know I will get sick.
The same is true for those with bee allergies.
After joining many social media groups for beekeeping, I was shocked at how many people posted images of swollen hands, arms, or faces after getting stung by a bee with a lighthearted caption about how they're allergic but keep bees anyway. Others have the same image but with a sad caption about how they will be getting rid of their brand new hives. I've even seen some write it off because “I am allergic, but I also haven't been stung yet” as if the risk is quite low.
Stop. Please, just stop.
There is one universal truth in beekeeping, and that is you will get stung. I don't care how cautious you are around your bees. I don't care how good your equipment is. I don't care how many years you have gone without getting stung so far- if you are working with bees, you will get stung eventually.
When I picked up my bees, I spoke to a seasoned beekeeper who had never been stung. I expressed concern about being afraid of being stung (a fear I quickly got over), and they replied back downplaying the risk because of their extreme luck. As it turns out, those who have gone on a streak without getting stung are often those who broadcast it the most to whoever will listen, which makes new beekeepers have an inflated sense of safety around their bees.
I got stung three times in my first season.
Once I figured out what I was doing wrong my sting frequency dropped considerably, I'll admit, but I still got stung all the same. No matter what, if you are getting into beekeeping, you simply need to assume that there is a 100% chance that you will get stung not just once, but possibly multiple times in any given season.
This is not a matter of if, but when.
Bee Allergies Often Get Worse Over Time
Perhaps the worst part about bee allergies is that your reaction is not guaranteed to be the same over time. Some people may get lucky and start building immunity while others get worse reactions with each successive sting.
If you're in the former group, great! But who wants to risk finding that one out when the alternative is a worse and worse reaction with each sting? The answer should be absolutely no one.
If you're in the latter, you may get stung once and not react. Your next sting may have a lot of swelling and pain. The sting after that may push you into hives, anaphylaxis, or worse.
We are not doctors and do not pretend to understand why this is, but as with all allergies some can have minor reactions, some can have major reactions, some can get better with time, and some can get worse with time. There really is no rhyme or reason for this, and when it comes to the fact that bee stings can be deadly, it doesn't seem worth the risk if you are allergic.
This is why we always recommend would-be beekeepers get an allergy test before getting into the hobby unless they've been stung by bees in the past to know how they react. Personally, I had been stung by bees before, in recent years too, and never reacted, so I was reasonably convinced I would be fine. (We also have an EpiPen on hand and live three minutes from a hospital.)
But if I had any experience where my reaction was any worse than “minor inconvenience that I quickly forget about,” I would've hesitated on getting bees outright.
Beekeeping is an Expensive Hobby for the Risk
Ultimately, the point we're trying to convey here is that, while beekeeping is a fun hobby, it is not something you should be risking your life over. To be honest, no hobby is that good. When you add on the fact that it costs $500+ to get started, we'd go as far as saying that beekeeping is an expensive hobby for such a risk- especially if you ultimately find out you need to get rid of your hives just a few weeks after starting.
So if you're on the fence and need someone to be a voice of reason in your life, repeat after us: “I will not risk my life for a hobby.”
Instead, we implore you to simply take the money you would've invested in hives and spend it supporting local apiaries by buying their products. You'll get great honey all the same all without the risk to your own life.
How do you react to a bee sting? Have you had to change your beekeeping habits because of an issue? Comment below to share!