Yellowjackets and allergies


If you see what appears to be a giant yellowjacket flying close to the ground or your premises, it’s more than likely a yellowjacket queen searching for a suitable place to nest and start a colony. The queens are the only ones to survive the winter, except on very rare occasions. Lately, I have seen three on my property. I have put out my jellowjacket trap, which trapped and drowned hundreds if not a thousand or more of the yellowjacket workers last summer, and I hope to trap one or more of the queens before they can establish colonies. Every queen killed results in a reduction of between one and five thousand of the smaller trouble-making offspring that bother us later in the year.

Yellowjacket stings are not only painful but can result in death. About one person in a thousand is hyperallergic to the stings of yellowjackets, wasps, and bees. If a hyperallergic person is stung and not treated immediately with an antihistamine, such as Benadryl, death occurs within one hour 66 percent of the time, and within three hours, the stung victim dies 94 percent of the time.

I took a bee-keeping class under the late Professor Faye Guyton, and following his death, Professor George Blake taught the course. After having been stung by bees numerous times, Prof. Blake began experiencing symptoms of allergy. He kept a bottle of Benadryl handy, and if stung he would take a swig. That prevented him from dying from respiratory obstruction or anaphylactic shock, which causes fatality in untreated hyperallergic people following a sting.

Most allergies produce mild symptoms, but some, such as the aforementioned, are potentially life-threatening. I have experienced one of the latter. About 20 years ago, I was carelessly handling a copperhead and was bitten on the finger. Within a few minutes, using a sterile razor blade, I made an incision about one-fourth of an inch long and about that deep through the fang puncture and sucked. I believe I sucked out most of the venom, but Janie, who was there at the time, insisted that I go to the hospital. To keep peace in the family, I agreed to go. Meanwhile, my finger had swollen to about twice its normal size and I was experiencing severe pain, but only in my finger.

I was admitted, and Dr. Strother performed an initial test to ensure that I was not allergic to the antivenom, which was negative. But I knew that about 70 percent of people who were treated with antivenom would experience a delayed allergic reaction to the antivenom. Whether the antivenom produced today results in a delayed reaction is questionable.

No complications occurred from the snake bite, but about twelve days later, I felt an unusual sensation in my lips and eyebrows. I drove home and Janie said, “Bob, your lips are swollen and your eyebrows are too.” I thought, I’m reacting to that antivenom and told Janie to call the doctor, who met me and gave me a shot of antihistamine.

We returned home, and I began experiencing hives, itching on my scalp and torso. The hives began to subside, but I noticed something else, my voice began to squeak, an indication that my larynx was swelling, a condition called larynx edema. This can result in a closure of the trachea and suffocation. I told Janie, “If this gets worse, you may have to perform a tracheotomy on me, to keep me alive. It’s a simple procedure. You make an incision in the neck, just above the collar bones, and then cut into the trachea and insert a hollow object into the trachea. That will bypass my larynx and allow me to breath. These diagrams in the Merck Manual will show you exactly how to do it.”

I placed a single-edge razor blade, the barrel of a ball-point pen, and a wad of cotton next to the bed, and told her, “These are all you’ll need. Then call the doctor and ask him for additional advice.” Fortunately for me, and especially for Janie, my larynx didn’t swell to the extent that my ability to breath was impaired.

Speaking of allergies, Geezer Bob Sanders told me about one I had never heard of. His grandson is allergic to white oak trees of all things! A website, sharecare, states, “Avoid white oak in individuals with a known allergy or hypersensitivity to white oak. “ It stated that one patient experienced an anaphylactic reaction after eating acorns from a related oak species. The patient was also allergic to peanuts. So, I am led to believe that Bob’s grandson isn’t the only person in the world who is allergic to white oak trees, as I initially thought he might be.

Bob Mount is a Professor Emeritus with the Dept of Zoology and Entomology, Auburn Univ. He is also chairman of the Opelika Order of Geezers, well-known local think tank and political clearing house. He writes about birds, snakes, turtles, bugs and assorted conservation topics.


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