Bees, wasps, and their kin inject venom into the skin when they sting. That leads to pain, redness, and swelling at the site of the sting. Discomfort can last from several hours to a day, depending on what stings you and how many insects attack. Compared to insects, we're far outnumbered. If you happen to make one of them angry enough to sting or bite you, here's what do to.
Any bite could develop complications. Stay alert for these potential problems.
Infection. Examine the wound periodically, says paramedic Jeff Rusteen. If it gets red, painful, or hot, infection has probably developed. Get professional help.
Intense abdominal pain. Beware, a black widow spider bite can cause intense abdominal pain that could be confused with appendicitis. Let your doctor know you've been bitten so that she can administer injections of calcium gluconate, says Dr. Luscombe. A bite from a brown recluse spider might also produce problems, he adds. If an intensely sore lump develops (sometimes weeks after the injury), consult your doctor.
Preexisting chronic disease. If you have diabetes, lung disease, liver disease, cancer, AIDS, or any condition that makes it hard for you to fight infection, see a doctor.
Bee stings cause more deaths than snakebites, says Herbert Luscombe, M.D. A normal bee sting produces pain for a brief time and swelling that usually lessens in a few hours. But more severe symptoms may indicate an allergy, which can lead to deadly anaphylactic shock. Be on the lookout for chest tightness, hives, nausea, vomiting, wheezing, hoarseness, dizziness, swollen tongue or face, fainting, or shock. The more rapidly symptoms appear, the more life-threatening they are.
If these symptoms appear, says Claude Frazier, M.D., use an insect sting kit as directed. Then rush the victim to the nearest hospital or physician. If no kit is available, apply an ice pack, if possible, and rush the victim to help.
Joseph Benforado, M.D., is a professor emeritus of medicine at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and past vice president of the U.S. Pharmacopoeia, which sets American drug standards.
Claude Frazier, M.D., is an allergist in Asheville, North Carolina.
David Golden, M.D., is an associate professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.
Richard Hansen, M.D., is past medical director of the Poland Spring Health Institute in Poland Spring, Maine. He is the author of Get Well at Home.
Herbert Luscombe, M.D., is a professor emeritus of dermatology at Jefferson Medical College of Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia. He is also formerly senior attending dermatologist at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital, also in Philadelphia.
Edgar Raffensperger, Ph.D., is a professor emeritus of entomology in the department of entomology at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York.
Stephen Rosenberg, M.D., is an associate professor of clinical public health at Columbia University School of Public Health in New York City. He is the author of The Johnson & Johnson First-Aid Book.
Jeff Rusteen is a firefighter-paramedic with the Piedmont Fire Department in Piedmont, California. He teaches emergency medical technology at Chabot College in Hayward.
George Shambaugh Jr., M.D., is a professor emeritus of otolaryngology and head and neck surgery at Northwestern University Medical School in Chicago, a medical otologist and allergist in Hinsdale, and a member of the staff at Hinsdale Hospital. He writes a health and nutrition newsletter that he sends to his patients.