By Xenophon Tsoukalis, M.D.
When a bee stings, it loses its stinger and dies, whereas a wasp can cause multiple stings, since it doesn’t lose its stinger, triggering thus serious allergic reactions.
Mortality rates due to bee or wasp stings are attributed to the fact that the victim may suffer a heart attack or a stroke or even die not long after being stung because of anaphylactic shock. Most deaths caused by bee stings or wasp bites occur in the aftermath of hypersensitivity reactions that trigger anaphylaxis or anaphylactic shock.
Within 10 minutes after being stung, the countdown to the most crucial moments for the victim’s life begins. Multiple stings and the subsequent poisoning due to the insect’s venom can prove life-threatening even in the case of non-allergic victims.
Wasp stings are far more hazardous in terms of an allergic reaction as well as an infection, because a wasp feeds not only on nectar but also on rotten meat and leftovers in rubbish. Consequently, microbes are easily transferred to the victim through the stinger.
Bee and wasp stings trigger a local inflammatory skin reaction as a result of the venom penetrating our skin through the stinger. The main symptoms include redness, swelling, pain or itching at the sting site and can last from several hours to days. Fortunately, in most cases, these stings are not hazardous, as it takes hundreds of stings during the whole year for most adults’ lives to be in danger.
If you aren’t allergic, just remove the stinger. If it is visible (which means that it is a bee sting, as a wasp doesn’t lose its stinger), try to remove it by pushing it sideways with your fingers. DO NOT use tweezers, because by pushing the stinger, more venom may be released into the wound, hurting you more.
BE CAREFUL! Do not try to remove the stinger by applying pressure and squeezing the site with your fingers or nails, because, instead of pulling the stinger outwards, it may be pushed further deep.
Cleanse the sting site with caution. Apply ice. Place an ice pack to prevent swelling. Use an antihistamine or corticosteroid cream for itching and a painkiller if necessary.
In case of a severe anaphylactic reaction, lie down and carefully remove the stinger so that the venom won’t be pumped into the tissue and immediately seek medical help.
Signs and symptoms of an allergic reaction:
- Itchy eyes.
- A constricting sensation on throat and chest.
Urgent signs and symptoms
- Larynx swelling causing difficulty in breathing.
- Cough or wheezing.
- Severe hives.
- Stomach cramps, nausea and vomiting. Sudden drop in blood pressure that may result in losing consciousness.
If you are stung on the neck or mouth, you had better act quickly, because, if it swells up, the air flow will be blocked. Lick an ice cube or drink plenty of cold water. If you experience difficulty breathing or your face or neck swell up, head for a hospital in the immediate vicinity. If you know you are susceptible to an allergic shock, consult your GP and, as a precaution, always have at hand a ‘bee sting kit’ with antihistamines, cortisone, a bronchodilator inhaler and an adrenaline injection for severe cases.
In the event of no medicines, use baking soda, ammonia, vinegar or lemon. However, it makes a big difference which substance to apply. If you are stung by a bee, use ammonia or baking soda paste, because the venom is acidic and neutralized with ammonia.
When stung by a wasp, the venom is alkaline and neutralized with vinegar. If done vice versa, the infection will aggravate. Always wear a name tag around your neck or wrist indicating your allergic reaction and a contact number of someone well aware of your condition in case of losing consciousness.
The venom in a nutshell
A great deal of research on the chemical composition of bee venom has been carried out, especially during the ‘50s and ‘60s when the basic chemical compounds were identified and isolated and their pharmaceutical results were analyzed.
88% of the venom consists of water. Glucose, fructose and phospholipids contained in the venom are similar to those found in bee blood (Crane, 1990). At least 18 active ingredients have been described, including various enzymes, peptides and amino acids. The venom of other Apis species is similar, but even venoms of other genera of each species vary slightly. The toxicity of Apis cerana venom is reportedly twice as much higher as that of A. Mellifera.