What causes bee and wasp sting fear as hospital installs beehives to reduce angst

A hospital has introduced hives to help children get over the bee and wasp sting-fear. (Brian Lougheed/PA)
A hospital has introduced hives to help children get over the bee and wasp sting-fear. (Brian Lougheed/PA) (PA)

A hospital has installed beehives to ease the sting-fear of children who have suffered life-threatening reactions to bee and wasp stings.

Cork University Hospital has become home to tens of thousands of honeybees in a unique project, which will see patients able to watch the insects from waiting rooms via a CCTV system installed at entry points to the hives.

The project, funded by CUH Charity will also produce the hospital’s own brand of CUHoney.

The Wilton campus is the national centre for the treatment of children who have endured life-threatening allergic reactions (anaphylaxis) to bee and wasp stings.

Treatment requires immunotherapy – intensive, long-term injections of venom doses – which helps the immune system build up a tolerance to the venom.

Despite being highly successful at reducing the risk of future reactions, many patients keep their distance from bees and wasps.

Paediatrics allergy consultant Dr Juan Trujillo said the project is vital in reassuring patients that they can continue to live life in the same way, with a reduced possibility of a life-threatening event from a sting.

“They need to know that allergies are everywhere but with this kind of treatment, they will have less anxiety in the future,” he said.

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Iulia, 10, and seven-year-old Eric Dumitrescu, pictured at the new hives on the hospital campus. (Brian Lougheed/PA)
Iulia, 10, and seven-year-old Eric Dumitrescu, pictured at the new hives on the hospital campus. (Brian Lougheed/PA) (PA)

What causes bee and wasp fear?

Defined in the Merriam-Webster dictionary as an “intense fear or dislike of bees”, apiphobia is extremely common, with some people developing a phobia after being stung as a child, or watching someone else get stung.

While prior exposure is not always required for a fear to occur, with some people only developing an irrational fear later in life, according to Dr Marianne Trent, clinical psychologist, founder of Good Thinking Psychological Services and creator of the Feel Better Academy a fear of bees and stings can develop in childhood.

"Being mammals we quickly learn to avoid pain," she explains. "This is why as young children we might burn our hand on something our parents already have told us is hot but that the next time we get close to the object we will make sure we don’t hurt ourselves."

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Dr Trent says pain is something known as aversive stimuli.

"Wasps and bees can fall into this same type of category for us," she continues. "Either through our own experience or that of someone else we are aware that getting close to these yellow and black fuzzies can cause pain and in some cases even death.

"It is therefore in our interest to avoid this pain and any other consequences."

There is, however, a specific difference between not wanting to get stung by a bee, and someone who is suffering from an intense fear of bees.

"Sometimes people ask how to tell the difference between not liking something and having a phobia of it," Dr Trent continues.

"For me I think the difference is the impact that being around something or thinking about it has on our ability to stay mindful and functional.

"For example, if a wasp or bee flies in through an open door when you’re having an important meeting, can you continue with that meeting whilst only losing a small amount of your focus? If the answer is yes then it is likely not a phobia.

"In contrast, if you needed to get as far away as possible this would mean you couldn’t carry on doing what you were doing or even after a short pause to usher the buzzing fellow back outside again you found it tricky to get back on track, then this could indicate that you are closer to having a phobia."

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How to get over the sting-fear. (Getty Images)
How to get over the sting-fear. (Getty Images) (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

How to get over the sting-fear

Given that for the majority of us a sting would lead to discomfort for an hour or so rather than anything more sinister Dr Trent says it can be helpful to try and keep our responses within proportion.

"It can be useful to increase our distress tolerance by breathing calmly and allowing wasps or bees to be close to us whilst staying within our window of tolerance and not panicking," she suggests.

"With practice we can change the way we respond in the moment and as a result have far more enjoyable picnics and trips to the beach!"

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When people have phobias of things, such as bees or wasps, Dr Trent says it can be helpful to learn more about what scares us.

"So for example, reading some books or visiting websites to learn about the behaviour of the creature that scares us," she explains.

"Sometimes it can be helpful to look at photos of it across the life stage as this allows us to build our distress tolerance and turn down our disgust reaction.

"That said, if you are allergic it is essential to carry an epipen and try to stay away from them where possible as this will minimise the chance of being exposed to a sting."

Additional reporting PA.