A BEEKEEPER who discovered he was allergic to bee stings has praised treatment at the Churchill Hospital in Oxford for saving his life.

Ian Gourlay from Oxford found out he was allergic to bee stings when an insect stung him on the shin after crawling up his trousers in the early 1990s.

But thanks to medics at the Headington hospital, he is now immune after years of bee venom immunotherapy treatment.

He spoke out as pharmaceutical company ALK launched its national Bee Resistant campaign to raise awareness of insect stings.

The 65-year-old said: “It’s been a lifesaver – certainly in my case it was amazing.

“It would have made a big difference to my life if I had not been able to continue beekeeping. It would have been a major hobby I would have lost.

“I sell the honey and I find bees fascinating – the lifecycle, building the nest, the plants they feed on, everything.

“Although I had always had reactions to insect bites, until then I had been keeping bees without having any major reaction.

“But about half an hour after the sting I started sweating, I felt nauseous and nearly passed out. I had bloodshot traces up and down my shin.

“When you feel the pressure on your chest and breathing problems, it’s really quite alarming.

“As a beekeeper I knew about it and I was lucky it did not progress any further.”

Mr Gourlay said his treatment involved increasing the dosage of tiny injections of purified venom until the body is immune.

The former Oxford University forestry researcher, who has been beekeeping for about 30 years, said without the treatment he could have been at risk of anaphylaxis, a severe, potentially life-threatening allergic reaction which can develop rapidly.

He visited the hospital for injections over three years but was able to safely return to looking after his dozen hives without the threat of a severe allergic reaction after just 12 months of treatment.

Without the treatment, he would have also been unable to continue volunteering at a mental health therapy garden near Witney, where he looks after the hives.

The beekeeper had to begin treatment again after he discovered he was also allergic to wasp stings when an insect crawled into his T-shirt. He said he knew several colleagues who were forced to give up their hobby by the potentially life-threatening effects of allergic reactions to bee stings.

Medical director of ALK, which supplies products used in the treatment of venom allergy, Stephen Lombardelli said: “For Ian, having venom immunotherapy treatment was crucial for him to be able to continue with beekeeping and, as he is also allergic to wasps, he needed additional treatment as the venom is different to that of bees.”