Andrew Davis wrote in The wonders of Beekeeping that there are two conditions that can end a beekeeper’s career – anaphylaxis and a bad back… and I submit that heat stroke is equally dangerous.
In the past 25 years, I’ve had so many careers that without a detailed timeline explanation, I sound like a Highlander (There can be only one!) Just the same, in the search for my perfect bliss, I worked as a Paramedic in one of these past lives, which lead to my current day job as a licensed Occupational Hygienist and Safety Technologist. So now that my credentials have been established, let’s talk about the hazards associated with beekeeping, the signs & symptoms, and how to best treat and prevent them.
Beekeeping can be as strenuous as you chose to make it. While a full deep super of honey can weigh as much as much as 90lbs, the individual frames weigh no more than 10 pounds. So even someone with a really bad back can still keep bees by moving the supers one frame at a time.
So back pain won’t necessarily end your beekeeping vocation or avocation as long as you make a few adjustments to how you work.
While there are many things you can do to prevent back injury and improve the health of your spine, I feel that these three things are the most important:
First – Keep The Leverage In Your Favor
“Lift with knees, not with your back.” While you have heard this a thousand times, it makes more sense than you might realize.
Try this: Hold a 5lbs weight to your chest. Simple enough, right? Now hold that weight out straight in front of you. There is now 12lbs of force be placed on your shoulder – that’s just leverage. However, the same is true of your lower back. 50lbs held against the body weighs 50lbs, but when you bend over, 120lbs of force is put on your lower back – again, leverage. So if it’s heavy, keep your back straight.
Second – Don’t Twist
Twisting at the waist without anything in your hands is good weigh to warm up the lower back muscles. However, if you put just 20lbs in your hands while you twist, you can cause damage to the disc in your spine. This sort of injury rarely happens due to a single event but instead is caused by repetition. This is what is referred to as a “repetitive work injury”.
However, this one is very easy to prevent. Instead of twisting at the waist, simply move your feet. Sure this will add three additional foot steps every time you move a super but the new health craze is 10,000 steps a day for better health – so there are three more steps each time you move a super… Mazel Tov.
Third – 50lbs or Less
In most workplaces, 50lbs or less has become the gold standard. So in the apiary, try to reduce the amount of weight you have to lift. Buying mechanical equipment is outside of most people’s budget, so reduce the weight of your honey supers by using medium or even shallow supers when possible.
- 10 frame deep = 90 pounds
- 10 frame medium = 65 pounds
- 10 frame shallow = 50 pounds
- 9 frame deep = 85 pounds
- 9 frame medium = 60 pounds
- 9 frame shallow = 45 pounds
- 8 frame deep = 75 pounds
- 8 frame medium = 55 pounds
- 8 frame shallow = 40 pounds
Anaphylaxis is life threatening, so if you are highly allergic to bee stings, then beekeeping is not for you. However, if you are unsure if you are allergic, then here are some signs to watch out for:
Signs and Symptoms of severe allergic reaction
- Skin reactions, including hives and itching and flushed or pale skin
- Difficulty breathing
- Swelling of the throat and tongue
- A weak, rapid pulse
- Nausea, vomiting or diarrhea
- Dizziness or fainting
- Loss of consciousness
These are all very serious symptoms and should be treated as a medical emergency.
Most of the time, bee sting symptoms are minor and include:
- Instant, sharp burning pain at the sting site
- A red welt at the sting area
- Slight swelling around the sting area
In most people, the swelling and pain go away within a few minutes or hours.
Some people have a bit stronger reaction, with signs and symptoms such as:
- Extreme redness
- Swelling at the site of the sting that gradually enlarges over the next day or two
How To Remove A Stinger
My dad has been keeping bees for about two years now – it’s about the only thing we have in common. Nonetheless, he has very gentle bees and over the past two years he has only been stung 5 times (an impressive number given that he doesn’t wear a suit or use a smoker). One of those stings happened last week and caused his arm to swell from the wrist to the elbow.
Now despite the fact that he is a faithful member of a beekeeping club, it appears no one had ever told him how or when to remove a stinger. So he left it in until he finished working in the yard and then pulled it out with his fingers.
So that got me thinking. Maybe there are other beekeepers that might have missed this basic lesson – which is what prompted this week’s blog.
First you should know that a stinger is actually a tiny hypodermic syringe. Connected to the needle (stinger) is a venom sac. If you squeeze this sac when removing the stinger, you will inject all of the venom into your skin. So it is important to scrape the stinger away with a credit card, long finger nail, or even your hive tool.
It’s also important to know that the stinger and venom sac will continue to spasm even after it has been pulled free of the bee’s abdomen. So the longer you leave the stinger in your body, the more venom will be injected. So remove the stinger as quickly as possible.
Treatment for moderate reactions
The following steps may help ease the swelling and itching often associated with large local reactions:
- Remove the stinger as soon as you can.
- Wash the affected area with soap and water.
- Apply a cold compress.
- Take an over-the-counter pain reliever as needed. You might try ibuprofen (Motrin IB, Children’s Motrin, others) to help ease discomfort.
- If the sting is on an arm or leg, elevate it.
- Apply hydrocortisone cream or calamine lotion to ease redness, itching or swelling.
- If itching or swelling is bothersome, take an oral antihistamine that contains diphenhydramine (Benadryl) or chlorpheniramine (Chlor-Trimeton).
- Avoid scratching the sting area. This will worsen itching and swelling and increase your risk of infection.
Stings happen but as long as you are not severely allergic to them, you will get used to it. In fact, a study showed that beekeepers build up an immunity to the bee venom after 13 stings.
In last weeks blog, I told about how my nephew, Zane who ended up in the hospital with Acute Dehydration and given this intense summer we are having the signs and symptoms of heat stress bear repeating.
There are three types of heat related illnesses I discuss when teaching First Aid.
- Heat Cramps
- Heat Exhaustion
- Heat Stroke
Heat cramps are caused by an electrolyte imbalance and can be a symptom of Heat Exhaustion. This is usually an early sign and if treated, will usually subside.
- Rest briefly and cool down
- Drink clear juice or an electrolyte-containing sports drink
- Practice gentle, range-of-motion stretching and gentle massage of the affected muscle group
- Don’t resume strenuous activity for several hours or longer after heat cramps go away
- Call your doctor if your cramps don’t go away within one hour or so
Heat exhaustion is slightly worse. Here are the signs and symptoms:
- Cool, moist skin with goose bumps when in the heat
- Heavy sweating
- Weak, rapid pulse
- Low blood pressure upon standing
- Muscle cramps
You may have one or all of these symptoms
How to treat it:
- Stop all activity and rest
- Move to a cooler place
- Drink cool water or sports drinks
Contact your doctor if your signs or symptoms worsen or if they don’t improve within one hour.
Heatstroke requires emergency treatment. Untreated heatstroke can quickly damage your brain, heart, kidneys and muscles. The damage worsens the longer treatment is delayed, increasing your risk of serious complications or death.
Heatstroke signs and symptoms include:
- High body temperature. A core body temperature of 104 F (40 C) or higher, obtained with a rectal thermometer, is the main sign of heatstroke.
- Altered mental state or behavior. Confusion, agitation, slurred speech, irritability, delirium, seizures and coma can all result from heatstroke.
- Alteration in sweating. In heatstroke brought on by hot weather, your skin will feel hot and dry to the touch. However, in heatstroke brought on by strenuous exercise, your skin may feel dry or slightly moist.
- Nausea and vomiting. You may feel sick to your stomach or vomit.
- Flushed skin. Your skin may turn red as your body temperature increases.
- Rapid breathing. Your breathing may become rapid and shallow.
- Racing heart rate. Your pulse may significantly increase because heat stress places a tremendous burden on your heart to help cool your body.
- Headache. Your head may throb.
When to see a doctor
If you think a person may be experiencing heatstroke, seek immediate medical help. Call 911 or your local emergency services number.
Take immediate action to cool the overheated person while waiting for emergency treatment.
- Get the person into shade or indoors.
- Remove excess clothing.
- Cool the person with whatever means available — put in a cool tub of water or a cool shower, spray with a garden hose, sponge with cool water, fan while misting with cool water, or place ice packs or cold, wet towels on the person’s head, neck, armpits and groin.
Avoid Heat Stress
Avoiding heat stress is challenging for a beekeeper but it can be done. Plan beekeeping activities to avoid working in the heat of the day (It’s normally hottest between 2:00pm-4:00pm). Use the heat of the day to take a late lunch or catch up on paperwork.
Take frequent breaks and drink lots of water. However too much water could wash away electrolytes, so it is advised that you drink 1 electrolyte replacement drink such as Gator-aid for every 3 waters.
Lastly, watch the weather. There are apps that can send you weather warnings and advisories. Stay alert to changing conditions and act accordingly.
Back Pain, Allergic Reactions, and Heat Stress can all derail your beekeeping hopes but with proper mitigation most of these problems can be overcome.
Since there was no way for me to improve on the advice, most of the technical information above was copied directly from Mayoclinic.org
If you’ve enjoyed this blog, then scroll down to the dark blue area below and hit one of the subscribe buttons… and don’t forget Friday’s are Honey Recipe Day – this week’s recipe is Honey Mustard Glazed Bacon Wrapped Chicken.
6 Comments Add yours
Great info, Bryan!! I’m here for all of it!! Thanks for sharing!!
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Thanks, Donna. This was a bit dry but useful. Next week’s blog should be better… Friday I’m harvested honey and splitting hives and on Saturday, I’m being boat to an island on the Mississippi River to remove a beehive from a hunting camp. I’m sure that will all go terribly wrong and make for a good story.
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Not at all!! It was good, solid info!! What an interesting weekend is ahead of you – I’ve read about the Mississippi River, fascinating and beautiful place! Good luck with all of that – still waiting to get my swarm… it’s starting to warm up so maybe soon!! 🧚🏻♀️❤️🙏
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Hey. Eastern philosophy/martial arts has your back (pun unintended) with the “don’t twist your body” thing. I won’t go into the details here but apparently it’s a common mistake amongst novice warriors.
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Avoiding heat stress is challenging for a beekeeper, this is the first challenge on how to become a successful beekeeper. This is a great blog!
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