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Ask Dr. Dunn: Bees and ticks



By Maren Dunn , D.O. Explore Big Sky Health Writer

Q: What can I do for a bee sting?
How should a tick be removed?
– Susan, Bozeman

It’s finally summertime in Montana!
But we’re not the only ones enjoying
the warm temperatures and blooming
flowers: ticks and bees have

Bees, yellow jackets, hornets, wasps
and fire ants are classified together
in the order of insects called Hymenoptera.
This is important because
their stings cause similar reactions
in humans and should be treated the

Most people suffer a local reaction
to a sting with pain and redness surrounding
the site. This reaction is
typically immediate and lasts hours
or even days. Cold compresses can be
comforting and ibuprofen or naproxen
can help with pain, while itching
can be treated with an over-the–
counter antihistamine like Zyrtec or
Claritin. Occasionally a local reaction
will occur where the area of redness
and pain is quite large – up to 10 centimeters.
Both large and small reactions
can be extremely uncomfortable and
can be treated with prescription medication
from a medical provider.

Some people have an actual Hymenoptera
venom allergy and will
suffer systemic symptoms that can
be life threatening if stung. This type
of reaction is called anaphylaxis. The
symptoms include difficulty breathing,
hives or skin flushing, swelling of
the mouth and lightheadedness. Approximately
2 percent of people stung
experience this reaction and require
immediate medical treatment.

Bees have barbed stingers attached to
their venom sacs that commonly get
left behind after a sting. It’s important
to remove the stinger immediately,
and by any means necessary, since the
venom continues to be injected for
several seconds after the sting. Always
remove stingers completely to avoid

Ticks, on the other hand, must be
removed in a very specific manner.
Studies show the tweezer/protectedfinger-
pull method is the most
effective approach to removing ticks
successfully without leaving behind
mouth parts. Using Vaseline, nail
polish, alcohol or a hot match allows
ticks to leave behind saliva, which
can cause infection or systemic illness.

It’s important to know that ticks can
carry disease. To transmit the illness
to a person, the tick must attach to
the skin; even if it’s only slightly
engorged. In other words, if the tick
is crawling around on the body, it is
not yet a threat.

Once you have removed the attached
tick, wash the area with disinfectant
soap and monitor the area for rash or
infection for up to one month. See
your medical provider if you have
fever, headache, rash or other signs
of illness.

If mouth parts are left behind, you
can leave them – your body will
expel them over time. They are not a
threat to your health.

Tick Removal Steps:

1) Use tweezers or covered
fingers to grasp the tick as
close to the skin as possible

2) Pull firmly upwards, do not
twist or jerk

3) Do not squeeze or puncture
the body

4) Disinfect the area

5) Place tick in a jar for your
medical provider to see in
case you become sick

6) Do not use Vaseline, nail
polish, alcohol or a hot

For an explanation of ticks
in Montana and tick-related
illnesses, see Dr. Dunn’s
column from last summer:

Maren Dunn, D.O., is owner of
Gallatin Family Medicine, a medical
clinic in the Big Sky Meadow Village.
Gallatin Family Medical offers
reduced cost and free mammogram
screening. Have a question? Email her
at inquiries@gallatinfamilymedicine.
com or visit her website at

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