True North Blog

Bees, Hornets & Allergies … What Do I Do?

Bees, yellow jackets, hornets and other insects that bite or sting have been in the back of my mind all Summer.  So as the season wanes, I thought that I would finally share with you a few thoughts and pieces of information that you might find helpful when you are out on your next outdoor adventure.  This way, you will be better prepared to keep yourself, and others, safe.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I haven’t been thinking of them because I am particularly fearful of insects, I’m not.  In fact, I am fascinated by bees and love to closely watch them flit from one wildflower in my backyard to another.  In turn, considering the huge number of folks who play outside, few are actually stung, and even fewer suffer any life-threatening effects.  However, I must admit that even that one isolated sting or bite can suddenly have a huge impact on your perception, and worse should you or another begin to display ill physical effects.

So the most common question that I am asked goes something like this, If members of our hiking group suddenly start to be stung, do we go back or go forward?  Although it may sound like I am dodging, my response is usually, It depends.  A few years ago, I was helping to lead roughly 40 participants for Venture Outdoors on the Laurel Highlands Hiking Trail when I suddenly realized that we were missing the tail-end of the group.  When I backtracked about 100 yards, I discovered why: three members were screaming and swatting at hornets, while seven others just stood apprehensively behind them.  The spontaneous decision was simply to pull the group forward: to hike around only risked accidentally running further towards the unseen nest, and going back would only further split us from the main group.  This choice, though, isn’t the only, or even the best one, since how you might respond would depend on any number of factors such as the location and dynamic of your group.

Regardless how such a situation is handled, I have been strongly recommending this past year that people always consider packing an epinephrine autoinjector.  This prescription medical device is designed to deliver a measured dose of epinephrine to a patient who is suffering from anaphylaxis, a serious allergic reaction (whether to food, medications, insect bites, etc.), typically marked by hives, facial swelling (especially around the eyes, mouth and tongue), dizziness, mental confusion, and, in severe cases, a constricted airway that can be fatal.

The response to my recommendation is mixed.  For someone who already knows that she or he has such an allergy, the decision is a no-brainer.  However, someone without such an allergy, or a history without serious reactions, typically remains unconvinced … Particularly, when I add that that the cost of an autoinjector is somewhere between $100-200, depending on the type, and has a shelf life of only one year.  But my response, in turn, is that one may just not know that one has an allergy until bitten or stung … whereupon $100-200 will seem cheap.

One of the most common types of autoinjector is the EpiPen (which is the type that I presently carry in my medical kit), however, the Auvi-Q has been fast becoming a popular alternative (and will likely be my replacement choice).  The main difference between them is that the latter “talks.”  This may seem like a silly feature considering how simple an autoinjector is to use, but also considering that some patients may be panicking, or that someone who is trying to help them may never have before used the device, listening to instructions is often preferable to trying to read instructions (in small print) under stress.


Would you like to know how to better recognize and deal with anaphylactic shock or other allergic reactions?  Then consider taking one of our upcoming Wilderness First Aid (WFA) certification courses.

Erik Kulick leaning aginst wall with True North badge on blue shirt

About the Author

Erik is the founder of True North Wilderness Survival School. He is a police officer, EMS provider, a Wilderness EMT, and a Fellow of the Academy of Wilderness Medicine. He has been featured in national and international media, including CNN, the Associated Press, and Backpacker. To learn more about Erik, visit him on LinkedIn and be sure to follow him on Facebook and YouTube.

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