Much more time is spent outdoors amidst the warm glow of the summer sun, and the beauty of nature is being reborn all around us. However, we are not alone. Thousands of little creatures also become active during this time of year. The little creatures are insects, and they play an important role in nature, unless...they end up on our arm, leg or in our drinks.
Although some calls to the Poison Center are about spiders, ants and caterpillars, this page will focus on stings from the Hymenoptera species. This species includes bees, wasps, hornets and yellow jackets, and makes up about 90 percent of the insect-related calls the Poison Center.
Stings occur via the "stinger," a needle-like appendage at the base of the insect. The insect inserts the stinger into the skin and a venom is released into the surrounding tissue. The immediate result is pain, inflammation and swelling. For most people the extent of injury stops there, but for some, the symptoms may progress to life-threatening events.
Do not be fooled by their size; these small guys can mean big trouble.
If you are not allergic to Hymenoptera venom, the danger of the exposure will depend on the number of stings and the areas of the body on which you were stung. If you experience a single sting anywhere on the trunk or the limbs, the risk of reaction is low. It is normal to experience immediate localized pain, itching, redness and swelling at the sting site. Your primary concern will be minimizing the symptoms of discomfort, which should resolve in a few hours.
If you are stung on the neck or throat area, inside your mouth or the gastrointestinal tract (this commonly occurs when the insect is swallowed along with a beverage), there is a moderate risk for a complication. The parts of the gastrointestinal tract most likely to be affected include the throat or esophagus (food tube); the insect will not be likely to survive the acid environment of the stomach. If the sting results in significant swelling, it could lead to airway obstruction (blockage). Contact your doctor or the poison center if such a sting occurs, and be prepared to go to the nearest emergency room (ER) if breathing becomes difficult. Multiple stings also increase your danger level and warrant the immediate attention of a health care professional.
An allergy to Hymenoptera venom can be one of two types: local or systemic.
These involve pain and swelling. In some cases symptoms can be extensive, may involve an entire limb and may persist for several days. Your physician may recommend antihistamines and pain medication to ease the effects of the sting. Most local allergies can be safely handled at home without much medical intervention; however, a systemic allergic reaction is a bona fide medical emergency.
does not depend on the amount of venom injected or number of stings. Even a single sting can produce a serious reaction in a sensitive individual. The reaction has a rapid onset and involves the dermal (skin), respiratory (breathing), and cardiovascular (heart) systems. The effects may include a generalized rash and swelling of the tongue or throat. This may progress to airway obstruction, shortness of breath and wheezing. The patient may experience a plunge in blood pressure and pass out.
If you know you are allergic to stings, it is advisable to wear some identification such as a Medical Alert bracelet to reveal your allergy. In addition, talk with your physician about carrying a Bee Sting Kit containing epinephrine, which will quickly decrease the severe effects of an allergic reaction to a sting. In an event of a sting, immediate transport to the nearest emergency room is essential. Call emergency medical services right away; do not attempt to drive yourself to the hospital.
If you have managed to avoid being struck by the "Sting Things" your whole life and are not aware of any allergy, do not worry. A very first exposure to the venom usually does not result in serious effects. However, subsequent exposures may prove to be a threat, so watch for any signs of allergic reaction and obtain medical attention if any serious symptoms occur.
Allergic reactions to Hymenoptera stings may be frightening but they are relative rare; the majority of questions to the Poison Center concerning stings are simply about the proper first aid technique.
All stings, except those which require an immediate transfer to the ER, should be treated following these steps:
Contact your physician or go to the ER if any of the following symptoms occur:
Since we have to live side by side with nature's creatures, learning about them gives you a competitive edge. Now you can enjoy the summer knowing that if you have an encounter with the infamous "Sting Things", you will be in control.
Call our 24-hour toll-free emergency hotline