Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.
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
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
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.