A bee sting strictly means a sting from a bee (honey bee, bumblebee, sweat bee, etc). In the vernacular it can mean a sting of a bee, wasp, hornet, or yellow jacket. Some people may even call the bite of a horse-fly a bee sting. The stings of most of these species can be quite painful, and are therefore an object of dread for many people.
It is important to differentiate a bee sting from an insect bite. It is also important to recognize that the venomtoxin of stinging insects is quite different. Therefore, the body's reaction to a bee sting may differ significantly from one species to another. or
The most aggressive stinging insects are vespid wasps (including bald-faced hornets and other yellow jackets) but not hornets in general (e.g., the European hornet is gentle). All of these insects aggressively defend their nests.
In people who are allergic to bee stings, a sting may trigger a dangerous anaphylactic reaction that is potentially deadly. Honey bee stings release pheromones that prompt other nearby bees to attack.
Honey bee stingsA honey bee that is away from the hive foraging for nectar or pollen will rarely sting, except when stepped on or roughly handled. Honey bees will actively seek out and sting when they perceive the hive to be threatened, often being alerted to this by the release of attack pheromones (below).
Although it is widely believed that a worker honey bee can sting only once, this is a partial misconception: although the stinger is in fact barbed so that it lodges in the victim's skin, tearing loose from the bee's abdomen and leading to its death in minutes, this only happens if the skin of the victim is sufficiently thick, such as a mammal's. The bee's sting is speculated to have evolved for inter-bee combat between members of different hives, and the barbs serve to improve penetration of the chitinous plates of another insect's exoskeleton. When bees sting elastic-skinned mammals, the barbs become a hazard to the bees as described above. Honey bees are the only hymenoptera with a strongly barbed sting, though yellow jackets and some other wasps have small barbs.
The sting's injection of apitoxin into the victim is accompanied by the release of alarm pheromones, a process which is accelerated if the bee is fatally injured. Release of alarm pheromones near a hive or swarm may attract other bees to the location, where they will likewise exhibit defensive behaviors until there is no longer a threat, typically because the victim has either fled or been killed. (Note: A true swarm is not hostile; it has deserted its hive and has no comb or young to defend.) These pheromones do not dissipate or wash off quickly, and if their target enters water, bees will resume their attack as soon as it leaves the water.
The larger drone bees do not have stings. In worker bees, the sting is a modified ovipositor. The queen bee has a smooth sting and can, if need be, sting skin-bearing creatures multiple times, but the queen does not leave the hive under normal conditions. Her sting is not for defense of the hive; she only uses it for dispatching rival queens, ideally before they can finish pupating. Queen breeders who handle multiple queens and have the queen odor on their hands are sometimes stung by a queen.
The main component of bee venom responsible for pain in vertebrates is the toxin melittin; histamine and other biogenic amines may also contribute to pain and itching. In one of the medical uses of honey bee products, apitherapy, bee venom has been used to treat arthritis and other painful conditions.
Images displaying the conditions after bee-sting
Bee sting. The stinger is torn off and left in the skin
2 minutes later
6 minutes later, after the stinger has been removed
27 minutes later
A bee sting 1 day after
The sting consists of three parts: a stylus and two barbed slides (or lancets), one on either side of the stylus. The bee does not push the sting in but it is drawn in by the barbed slides. The slides move alternately up and down the stylus so when the barb of one slide has caught and retracts it pulls the stylus and the other barbed slide into the wound. When the other barb has caught it also retracts up the stylus pulling the sting further in. This process is repeated until the sting is fully in and even continues after the sting and its mechanism is detached from the bee's abdomen.
When a honey bee stings a person, it cannot pull the barbed stinger back out. It leaves behind not only the stinger, but also part of its abdomen and digestive tract, plus muscles and nerves. This massive abdominal rupture is what kills the honey bee. Honey bees are the only species of bees to die after stinging.
TreatmentThe first step in treatment following a bee sting is removal of the stinger itself. The stinger should be removed as fast as possible without regard to method: studies have shown the amount of venom delivered does not differ if the sting is pinched or scraped off and even a delay of a few seconds leads to more venom being injected. Once the stinger is removed, pain and swelling should be reduced with a cold compress.
Many traditional remedies have been suggested for bee stings including damp pastes of tobacco, salt, baking soda, meat tenderizer, toothpaste, clay, garlic, urine, onions, aspirin or even application of copper coins.
Bee venom is acidic as it contains the highly acidic peptide melittin, and these interventions are often recommended to neutralize the venom; however, neutralizing a sting is unlikely to be effective as the venom is injected under the skin and deep into the tissues, where a topically applied alkali is unable to reach, so neutralization is unlikely to occur. In any case, the amount of venom injected is typically very small (between 5 and 50 micrograms of fluid) and placing large amounts of alkali near the sting site is unlikely to produce a perfectly neutral pH to stop the pain. Many people do claim benefit from these home remedies but it is doubtful they have any real physical effect on how much a sting hurts or continues hurting. The effect is probably related to rubbing the area or the mind perceiving benefit. Furthermore, none of these interventions have been proven to be effective in scientific studies and a randomized trial of aspirin paste and topical ice packs showed that aspirin was not effective in reducing the duration of swelling or pain in bee and wasp stings, and significantly increased the duration of redness. The study concluded that ice alone is better treatment for bee and wasp stings than aspirin.
The sting may be painful for a few hours. Swelling and itching may persist for a week. The area should not be scratched as it will only increase the itching and swelling. If a reaction persists for over a week or covers an area greater than 7-10 cm (3 or 4 inches), medical attention should be sought. Doctors often recommend a tetanus immunization. For about 2 percent of people, anaphylactic shock from certain proteins in the venom can be life-threatening and requires emergency treatment by a physician. If the victim is allergic to bee stings, the victim must be treated to prevent shock. People known to be highly allergic may carry around epinephrine in the form of a self-injectable EpiPen for the treatment of an anaphylactic shock.
For patients who experience severe or life threatening reactions to insect stings, researchers at Johns Hopkins have developed a series of allergy injections composed of increasing concentrations of naturally occurring venom which provide excellent and usually life-long protections against future insect stings.
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