Eric Green, 65, has been hooked on the outdoors since he was a boy.

He loves the open sky and the darkness of a deep, hushed forest.

His “other car” is a canoe.

And it’s just not the user-friendly summer months he cherishes. Some of his best times have been spent camping in arctic temperatures during the steely grip of winter. He’s even been face-to-face with a lost and bewildered bear.

Yes, he loves Mother Nature – and with the benefits of venom immunotherapy – he’ll embrace her for many more years.

Venom immunotherapy is the act of injecting allergic patients with diluted amounts of insect venom — in Green’s case, yellow jacket venom — to boost immunity to stings.

You see, it was the very same Mother Nature he loves that almost killed Green about 10 years ago.

“I was bit by a hornet as a child but it never came to anything ... It hurt and I cried, but that was about it,” Green says. “But this was different.”

This time, he was stung about 20 times after disturbing a yellow jacket nest in the backyard of his Markham home.

“I went in the house and started to draw a bath and I was OK, then all of a sudden I knew I was in trouble,” he says, remembering the dizziness and shortness of breath. “I called my wife, we got in the car and she went through red lights as we raced to the hospital.”

The last thing he recalls is a nurse assuring him she would be with him in a minute, then he collapsed into unconsciousness from anaphylactic shock, a potentially life-threatening allergic reaction that constricts airways and affects circulation.

A good dose of epinephrine revived him.

Once recovered, he looked for solutions to the new, unexpected problem in his life: How to go camping when a simple bee sting can kill you.

He heard about Dr. David Hummel, a Toronto allergist, who was offering immunotherapy.
“It works,” Green says. “I’ve been stung since (being on the therapy) and I was fine ... there was no reaction.”

But just to be sure, he always carries a portable dose of epinephrine in an EpiPen.

Hummel, who heads the anaphylaxis section of the Canadian Society of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, says the most dangerous culprits are the yellow jacket, honeybee, paper wasp, white face hornet and yellow hornet.

Venom immunotherapy can get results, he says.

He says people with a history of severe reactions to a sting have a 60-per-cent likelihood of another reaction if stung again. But venom immunotherapy can reduce the risk to less than five per cent, he says.

Patients are tested on all five insect venoms — regardless of what species caused the initial reaction — and given diluted amounts of any poison that causes a reaction.

It can take from a few days to a year to create an immunity, depending on the patient. A typical regimen begins with weekly injections of diluted venom, levelling off to a “two-sting dose” every six to eight weeks. Some patients, Green among them, need the injections for life.

Green is relieved venom immunotherapy has kept alive his communion with nature.

“It’s a good feeling knowing that I should be all right,” he says. “I love being outside and the injections just make everything so much easier.”

Bee-ware of those stingers

These tips will help you avoid painful and, for some, potentially life-threatening, insect attacks.

• Keep your shoes on. Honeybees are attracted to the clover that grows on lawns and fields.

• Don’t rely on repellents. They might keep away those pesky mosquitoes and black flies, but most are ineffective against flying, stinging insects.

• Don’t attempt to swat or “shoo” away bees. It’s best to gently brush them away or – better yet – be patient and let them fly off when they are ready.

• Watch your pop can. All types of insects love sugary beverages and will climb right into the tin, box or glass to enjoy them.

• Use tight lids on garbage cans, which are wasp magnets.

• Avoid sweet-smelling hairspray, deodorant or perfume.

• Don’t wear bright clothing, especially articles that include a floral pattern.

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