Bee and Wasp Sting - Symptoms

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What are the symptoms of a bee or wasp sting?

Insect stings may produce four types of reactions, each with characteristic symptoms as below:

  1. Local reactions are the most common type of reaction to a bee or wasp sting. Symptoms include pain, swelling, warmth, and redness at the site of the sting. Itching may also be present. These symptoms begin immediately following the sting and often last for only a few hours. Depending upon the type of insect, the stinging apparatus may still be visible in the affected skin. Large local reactions have a greater degree of swelling that can last for up to a week, sometimes associated with nausea and/or tiredness. These reactions are not allergic reactions.
  2. Systemic (body-wide) allergic reactions occur in people who have produced a type of antibody known as IgE antibody against the same insect venom as a result of a previous sting. Systemic allergic reactions are estimated to occur in a very small percentage of stings. Symptoms include hives and flushing of the skin and difficulty breathing due to swelling of the pharynx and epiglottis and narrowing of the bronchial passages. The reaction may vary in severity from mild skin hives to life-threatening reactions. The most severe immunologic reactions are known as anaphylaxis and occur more commonly in males and in people under 20 years of age. In severe reactions, hypotension (low blood pressure), circulatory disturbances, and breathing difficulty can progress to fatal cardiorespiratory arrest. Most people who develop anaphylactic reactions have experienced previous stings with few problems. Once an individual has experienced an anaphylactic reaction, the risk of having a recurrent episode is about 60%.
  3. Toxic reactions are a direct result of toxins in the venom rather than the body's immune response. Most often these are due to multiple simultaneous stings that introduce an unusually large amount of venom into the body. Symptoms can include fever, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, headache, fainting or dizziness, and convulsions. Hives, rash, and skin symptoms are less common in toxic reactions than in allergic reactions. Because bee and wasp venom are strong stimulants of the immune response, people who have experienced toxic reactions may produce antibodies to the venom and be at risk for future systemic anaphylactic reactions to stings.
  4. Delayed reactions are uncommon and occur even days to weeks after the sting. These reactions constitute less than 0.3% of all reactions to insect stings. The individual's own medical history and condition may play a role in determining whether delayed reactions occur. Symptoms can vary widely and may include inflammation of the brain (encephalitis), the nerves (neuritis), blood vessels (vasculitis), or kidneys (nephritis) as well as blood clotting disturbances. Serum sickness is a type of delayed reaction that occurs a week to 10 days after a sting and may cause itching, rash, fever, joint pain, fatigue, and swollen lymph nodes.
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See what others are saying

Comment from: Inga, 45-54 Female (Patient) Published: July 23

I was stung by a wasp on top of my foot, directly into a vein. The sting hole was bleeding and the vein knotted up. I took Benadryl right away and then used my Pro-Air inhaler. I felt the venom move up my leg and through my waist, chest and shoulders. Within 20 minutes I had an asthma attack even after using my inhaler. I could feel my brain swell which caused blurred vision and inability to walk steadily. By the time my neighbor drove me to an urgent care clinic, I was in full Anaphylactic shock. I know the people who work there and they didn't recognize me because I was swollen and red all over. I was given a buffet of injections and lung vapor treatment, I responded well and was able to go home after two hours. Benadryl bought me some time but the medical team saved my life and I now have an Epi-Pen kit at home.

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Comment from: Kat, 55-64 Female (Patient) Published: July 29

I was stung by a lone yellow jacket this week, after I accidentally disturbed it's ground nest. Felt just the usual burning pain, slight swelling so went back to work. Within 20 min. or so I began seeing an aura around everything, then started hearing a pulse in my head. My heart began pounding and breathing became labored, broke into a sweat and a co worker caught me before I hit the ground. My blood pressure tanked and I was going into shock! I kept going in and out of conspicuousness and was rushed to the local ER where they plugged me into IV`s and monitors while they tried to bring my pressure back up for over an hour. After spending the night in ICU I was released but have to keep taking benedryl and prednisone for 5 days. It's now 3 days since the incident and while I'm feeling better, I am very weak and so blown up from the steroids I feel sick to my stomach. Can't believe a little weenie bug brought me down like that! I've been stung before with little to no reaction...can't believe this!

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