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Bee and Wasp Stings (cont.)

Bee and Wasp Stings Causes

Bees and wasps inject venom by stinging unlucky people. Sometimes-especially with bees-the stinger may be left in the skin. The venom is poisonous and may cause direct injury to the human body. This injury is usually confined to the areas close to the sting or stings.

  • Allergic reaction: The vast majority of serious medical problems and deaths result from an allergic reaction. This happens in certain people whose immune systems are overly sensitive (or allergic) to the venom. When they get stung, their body may overreact to the venom, and an allergic reaction may happen throughout their body. These people are frequently described as being allergic to specific insect stings.
    • In the U.S., about 40 deaths are reported each year from insect venom anaphylaxis (severe allergic reaction). These fatal allergic reactions frequently, but not always, occur in people who have had a previous allergic reaction to the same type of insect.
    • Although multiple stings increase the potential danger in allergic cases, a serious or even fatal allergic reaction can (and does) occur from a single sting in a person with no known prior allergic reaction.
    • The vast majority of serious and fatal allergic reactions from stings cause a significant and obvious allergic reaction within an hour of being stung. Most deaths from stings occur within the first hour. Immediate emergency medical care is critical in known or suspected allergic reactions after an insect sting. In rare cases, serious or even fatal allergic reactions may not happen for up to four or more hours after an insect sting.
  • Other complications: Insect stings in nonallergic people, though perhaps painful, usually do not cause serious problems. However, multiple stings may cause serious complications (such as muscle breakdown or kidney failure) and, rarely, even death in nonallergic people.
    • Especially at increased risk are small children, elderly people, and people who are already weak. These serious problems may occur within the first few hours of being stung or may be delayed for days after being stung.
    • Even a single sting in the mouth or throat can cause swelling and obstruction of the airway. Children are at increased risk for these types of breathing problems from a sting.
    • A bacterial skin infection at the sting site may also develop.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 5/20/2014
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