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Bee and Wasp Stings

Bee and Wasp Stings Facts

Although many different types of insects in the United States are able to inflict a poisonous bite or sting (meaning they are venomous), the insects most likely to cause medical problems are bees (including the domestic honey bee, its Africanized "killer bee" race, and the bumble bee), wasps (including paper wasps, hornets, and yellow jackets), and ants (including the fire ant).

These insects are all in the Hymenoptera order, and thus stings from them are occasionally called Hymenoptera stings.

Because many of these species live in colonies, if one stings you, you may be stung by many.

Although most stings cause only minor medical problems, some stings may cause serious medical problems and even death.

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.
    • Some people may die 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.
Last Reviewed 8/31/2017
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Bee and Wasp Sting Symptoms

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Medical problems from bee and wasp stings are broadly broken down into two categories:

  • Local reactions (only the part of the body near the sting is affected)
    • Immediate pain, redness, swelling, and itching at the sting site may occur.
    • A large (greater than four inches across) local reaction may develop over the next 12-36 hours.
    • A bacterial skin infection, although uncommon, may also begin during the first 12-36 hours (or even after the first few days).
    • These may cause an enlarging area of redness at the sting site. It may be difficult to tell a local skin reaction and a local bacterial skin infection apart.
  • Systemic or allergic reactions (parts of the body away from the sting are affected)
    • Hives (raised itchy bumps on the skin) and itching all over the body
    • Swelling of the mouth or throat or both
    • Wheezing
    • Shortness of breath or other difficulty breathing
    • Nausea
    • Vomiting
    • Anxiety
    • Chest pain
  • In severe cases, marked difficulty breathing, unconsciousness, and even death may occur.

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Bee and Hymenoptera Stings »

Hymenoptera stings account for more deaths in the United States than any other envenomation.

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