If you are even being considered for venom immunotherapy in the UK there is the probability that you have been stung be a wasp or bee. You may also have suffered a severe life threatening allergic reaction called anaphylaxis. You will have been tested for which particular insect stung you – in the UK that is normally either the common wasp or bee – and then you will typically hear something like this from your doctor:
“I think in the circumstances it would be very sensible to start a course of venom immunotherapy to sort this problem out.”
The patient may ask a few sensible questions whilst the “bear in the room” question is this:
“Given that a sting nearly killed me in the not too distant past, is it not complete madness to volunteer to be stung artificially for the next three years?”
The answer I would always suggest is simple: Venom immunotherapy given under the strict guidelines as practiced here in the UK on the NHS and as described in the BSACI Guideline on Venom Immunotherapy is very safe. There are of course risk factors associated with certain conditions but the risks associated with having no treatment and then being stung in the middle of nowhere far outweigh the risks of the treatment. Logic dictates the treatment!
However logic does not always rule the day but rather our individual psychology and mindset.
In my non-medical experience of listening to many hundreds of patients faced with the dilemna of having the treatment or not, I think the great majority see the wisdom of having the treatment. However it is also my experience that most of us opt for the treatment because it psychologically gives us control over our lives again. The big gain of the treatment in my opinion and theirs is the psychological reassurance that there is more certainty over our lives once again and we have taken control and are doing something about it.
In contrast those more relaxed patients with a different mindset who feel more comfortable just going with the flow of life and taking a view on the future will typically get on with life and simply deal with the next sting by way of an adrenaline injector if, or when, it happens. For the control freak like myself I can only look at those folk with genuine admiration – I wish I could be so calm about the future.
I am now the other end of the immunotherapy treatment and hopefully desensitized to the dreaded wasp – can’t be certain however, still carry my adrenaline injectors, and so retain some form of notional control over the situation.
I can’t ever see myself being able to give them up.
David I Glaser