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: Barb, 65-74 Female (Patient) Published: July 01

I was bit by a wasp 2 days ago on the top side of my hand and it bit me through my glove. It wasn't too bad but I did go in the house and rubbed a little Benadryl cream on it and I thought everything was fine and yesterday I had no swelling. But this morning I woke up and the top side of my hand is all swollen up now. It's strange that a day afterwards I have swelling. So now I'm on the way to get some Benadryl pills and some more Benadryl cream. I guess this is a post reaction.

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Comment from: FLGrammy17, 75 or over Female (Patient) Published: June 09

The bee sting stung and hurt very much. I could not put my weight on the foot to walk back to my house. Three days later it is hurting and burning.

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