Ocular Bee Injuries

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  • Ocular bee and wasp stings have a diverse range of presentations and complications, including: Toxic Keratopathy, Optic Neuritis, Toxic Scleritis, Toxic Endophthalmitis, Glaucoma, and Cataracts.
  • For the primary care or emergency department provider, we recommend that the patient has urgent follow-up with an Ophthalmologist.
  • If the sting to the eye occurred seconds to minutes prior to presentation, the stinger must be immediately removed. If the stinger has been present for longer, the necessity for removal is heavily debated, as some argue that the venom has already been fully expressed and there is no further benefit from stinger removal, however, if able to be easily removed, the stinger should be removed. Ideally the stinger should be removed at a slit lamp, making sure to remove all parts of the stinger.
  • Consider starting a Topical Antibiotic, a Topical Steroid, and a Topical Cycloplegic. Additionally, the authors of this article recommend an Oral Steroid. For the treatment of ocular bee stings, oral or topical antihistamines are not routinely described in literature, but could be considered in certain cases.
  • Close follow-up is recommended in all cases, as some cases may worsen rapidly over the first several days.
  • For the purposes of tetanus prevention, honeybee stings can be considered “clean,” however, if a patient is due for a tetanus booster or has never received a tetanus vaccine, it should be given at the time of presentation.

Ocular Bee and Wasp Stings

Ocular bee and wasp stings, including stings to the cornea, conjunctiva, sclera, and eyelids, may be devastating to ocular health and visual function. The data published on bee stings to the eye is limited, mostly consisting of case reports and a few case series, thus there remains a need for further studies.  

While wasps and honey bees are both members of the Hymenoptera order of insects, their venoms differ, thus one would expect their stings to result in distinct presentations. Some have postulated that wasp stings are worse than other bee stings, however, many articles fail to state the type of insect responsible for the “bee sting,” thus for the purposes of this article, wasp stings and bee stings will be grouped together unless stated otherwise.

Common Ocular Bee and Wasp Sting Presentations

Other presentations may include: Toxic Endophthalmitis, [1] [2] subconjunctival inflammation, and/or eyelid swelling and inflammation.

Toxic Keratopathy

History, Physical Examination, and Symptoms

Patients typically describe a painful eye with blurry or diminished vision immediately after being stung in the cornea. Additionally, he or she may have light sensitivity. While some patients may wait to be seen by an ophthalmologist, may immediately present to an Ophthalmologist due to the severity of the pain. A stinger may be visible with a slit lamp, but occasionally, the bee's abdomen initially remains as well and is more easily visible.


  • Sterile Corneal Ulcer [typically surrounding an embedded bee stinger deep into the stroma or penetration tract]
  • Corneal edema with Descemet's folds [may be focal surrounding the ulcer or throughout the full cornea]
    • Edema has previously been described as severe diffuse linear endothelial striae or stellate corneal edema [3]
    • The epithelium may appear to have a "fine network of ridges surrounding the retained stinger" [3] which has previously been called pathognomonic
  • +/- Reactive uveitis, keratic precipitates, ciliary flush, and/or a sterile hypopyon
  • +/- segmental iris atrophy
  • +/- overlying epithelial defect
  • +/- sluggish or mid dilated pupil
  • Surrounding the cornea may have conjunctival edema and hyperemia, subconjunctival hemorrhages, eyelid swelling
  • If edema improves, it frequently becomes a corneal scar
  • May have long term endothelial damage (reduced cell density and polymegathism)

Optic Neuritis

Several cases of optic neuritis after an ocular or periocular sting have been reported in literature.  

History, Physical Examination, and Symptoms

Optic neuritis after a sting may not be observed originally, but can present hours to days after initial presentation. Patients typically describe a unilateral or bilateral decrease in vision. Several case reports report optic neuritis after bee stings to the conjunctiva or lower eyelid, leading one to postulate that in some cases the stinger might have penetrated deeper into the vitreous chamber releasing toxins in the posterior eye, however, bilateral cases after a sting lean away from this theory. At this time, risk factors for development of optic neuritis after a sting is not known. Current publications suggest that high dose intravenous or oral steroids may cause complete resolution of symptoms in some cases.  


  • Diminished Visual Acuity [Frequently to Light Perception (LP)]
  • + Afferent Pupillary Defect
  • Decreased Color Vision
  • Optic Disc Edema


Rosanna de Carmen Zambrano-Infantino reported decreased visual acuity in both eyes after a bee sting to the left lower eyelid. Visual acuity (VA) improved with one gram daily of methylprednisolone for three days.[4]

Choi and Cho reported a sting to the conjunctiva with initially maintained good visual acuity treated with topical steroids. Within twenty-four hours, the visual acuity decreased to light perception in the setting of eyelid swelling, conjunctival injection, corneal edema, reactive uveitis and optic disc swelling with an afferent pupillary defect. Intravenous methylprednisolone (500 mg, followed by 250 mg every 6 hours for 3 days), followed by oral prednisolone (1 mg / kg per day for 1 week), in addition to a topical cycloplegic and topical antibiotic, normalized the visual acuity to 20/20 with resolution of optic disc swelling.[5]

Maltzman et al. reported a bee sting to the lower eyelid in a thirty-two year old that was initially treated with a methylprednisolone dose pack, followed by oral prednisolone at one week, that failed to prevent the development of an optic neuropathy, resulting in a final visual acuity of 20/50 with a visual field deficit, despite ultimately being treated with 1000 mg/day of IV methylprednisolone for 5 days. Maltzman et al. also report an eight year old that developed bilateral optic neuritis after a bee sting to the left face that resolved after intravenous and oral steroids.[6]

Additionally, Lai et al. reported a 34-year-old stung by a wasp in the cornea with a resulting unilateral optic neuritis. Despite systemic steroids, (30 mg oral prednisone per day for 1 week), visual acuity did not improve past light perception.[7]


Corneal Scarring

Corneal scarring frequently occurs after toxic keratopathy from a corneal sting. When corneal scarring is central or significant, a corneal transplant may be considered.


Cataracts appear to be a relatively frequent occurrence in ocular bee and wasp stings. [8][9] The exact incidence is unknown.


Short and long term elevations in intraocular pressure has been noted in cases of ocular bee and wasp stings. [10][9][11] The exact incidence is unknown.

Secondary Infections

While secondary infections can occur, their incidence appears to be low. [9] [12]

Endothelial Cell Loss

Recently bee or wasp stings to the eye have been shown to cause long term endothelial cell loss. Gürlü and Erda concluded that honeybee venom contains a substance that is toxic to the endothelial cells after following a 25 year-old male one year after a corneal bee sting and finding reduced cell density and polymegethism. [13] Chauhan used specular microscopy to also show endothelial injury and reduced cell density after a bee sting. [14]

Diagnostic Procedures

If no view to the posterior pole, strongly consider B-scan ultrasonography.  

Cultures of corneal bee stings are not necessary unless the eye provider believes that the sting may be secondarily infected. If the stinger is removed, the eye provider should strongly consider culturing the removed stinger.  

Laboratory Tests


Differential Diagnosis

The differential diagnosis for an ocular bee sting is broad and includes anything that could cause corneal opacification, corneal swelling, conjunctival or episcleral injection, or ocular inflammation.  

Infectious etiologies must be considered. Additionally, non-infectious (sterile) ulcers must be considered, such as those due to exposure keratopathy, or neurotrophic keratopathy, corneal hydrops, or those secondary to autoimmune diseases (such as rheumatoid arthritis), vernal keratoconjunctivitis, vitamin A deficiency, or staphylococcal hypersensitivity.  

Corneal swelling also has an extensive differential but may be a result of decompensation of Fuchs’ endothelial dystrophy, herpetic stromal keratitis, pseudophakic or aphakic bullous keratopathy, iridocorneal endothelial dystrophy, or posterior polymorphic membrane dystrophy.  

Risk Factors

No risk factors are known for a worse ocular prognosis from an ocular sting.  


Bee and wasp venom are composted of many active components.

Bee venom consists of amino acids, enzymes, and peptides. Main components of bee venom include: Melittin, Apamin, Mast Cell Degranulating (MCD) Peptide, Adolapin, Phospholipase A2 and B, and Hyaluronidase. [15]


There is currently no agreed upon way to treat a corneal bee sting, despite its devastating effects to the eye. Corneal specialists in countries across the world may see several cases in their career, making it rare, but not exceedingly extraordinary. Current data available is limited to multiple case reports, a few case series, and small, limited literature reviews. No currently published systemic reviews exist.

General treatment

Many providers choose to treat an ocular bee sting with a topical antibiotic and a topical steroid. Strongly consider an oral steroid as some providers are adamant that early oral steroids can improve the final visual acuity, prevent optic neuritis, and decrease the likelihood of a patient from requiring a corneal transplant. If there is anterior chamber inflammation, include a topical cycloplegic. Most clinicians prefer to remove the stingers if possible, although several cases reports exist of long term stinger retention without complication. [16] [17]

Medical therapy

  • Topical Antibiotic
  • Topical Steroid
  • Topical Cycloplegic
  • Strongly consider an Oral Steroid

Removal of Stinger

The necessity of bee or wasp stinger removal is debated. About 90% of a bee's venom in injected within the first 30 seconds after the sting [18] and after about a minute, removing a stinger is unlikely to prevent further injection of venom into the eye. Most providers agree that if the stinger can easily be removed in total it should be removed. However, providers disagree on cases where removal may require surgical options.

Several case reports report long term retention of singers within the eye and good vision despite the retained stingers. [19][20][3]

Medical follow up

Follow-up initially should be within 1 to 2 days, as ocular bee stings may worsen initially over the first several days to weeks, especially if oral steroids are deferred.


Once inflammation has subsided, many patients are left with a corneal scar and occasionally a cataract. If a gas permeable contact lens or scleral contact lens does not adequately improve vision from a corneal scar and the patient wishes to obtain better vision, a corneal transplant and/or cataract surgery should be considered. Endothelial Keratoplasties (including Descemet's Stripping Endothelial Keratoplasties[21]), [8][22] and Penetrating Keratoplasties, [9][23] seem to have good final visual outcomes.

Ahmed et al. described a case of endophthalmitis after a bee sting (toxic verse secondarily infected) that required a pars plana vitrectomy (PPV) with lensectomy. After an additional penetrating keratoplasty, the stated that the patient went from poor vision to 20/80 vision. Thus, in selected cases, a PPV may be a valuable option. [2]

An anterior chamber washout has been described for stings to the eye, especially for wasp stings, as a way to remove the toxins from the anterior chamber. [24][25]


The prognosis likely depends on the anatomical location of the sting, depth of remaining stinger, type of Hymenoptera insect causing the sting, and practitioner’s choice of treatment.  

Range of visual acuity includes 20/20 vision to many with hand motion, count fingers, and light perception vision.

Ocular wasp stings may have a worse prognosis than ocular honey bee stings, however there is limited data supporting this.


  1. Kim JM, Kang SJ, Kim MK, Wee WR, Lee JH: Corneal wasp sting accompanied by optic neuropathy and retinopathy. Jpn J Ophthalmol. 2011, 55:165-167. 10.1007/s10384-010-0912-z
  2. 2.0 2.1 Ahmed M, Lee CS, McMillan B, Jain P, Wiley L, Odom JV, Leys M: Predicting visual function after an ocular bee sting. Int Ophthalmol. 2019, 39:1621-1626. 10.1007/s10792-018-0978-z
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Gilboa M, Gdal-On M, Zonis S: Bee and wasp stings of the eye. Retained intralenticular wasp sting: A case report. Br J Ophthalmol. 1977, 61:662-664. 10.1136/bjo.61.10.662
  4. Zambrano-Infantino Rde C, Piñieríia-Gonsálvez JF, Montaño C, Rodríguez C: [Optic neuritis after a bee sting]. Invest Clin. 2013, 54:180-185.
  5. Choi MY, Cho SH: Optic neuritis after bee sting. Korean J Ophthalmol. 2000, 14:49-52. 10.3341/kjo.2000.14.1.49
  6. Maltzman JS, Lee AG, Miller NR: Optic neuropathy occurring after bee and wasp sting. Ophthalmology. 2000, 107:193-195. 10.1016/s0161-6420(99)00020-2
  7. Lai P, Yang J, Cui H, Xie H: Prognosis of corneal wasp sting: case report and review of the literature. Cutan Ocul Toxicol. 2011, 30:325-327. 10.3109/15569527.2011.579930
  8. 8.0 8.1 Tyagi M, Reddy S, Basu S, Pappuru RR, Dave VP: Endoscopic visualization-assisted corneal bee sting removal. Indian J Ophthalmol. 2021, 69:423-425. 10.4103/ijo.IJO_1161_20
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 9.3 Gudiseva H, Uddaraju M, Pradhan S, Das M, Mascarenhas J, Srinivasan M, Prajna NV: Ocular manifestations of isolated corneal bee sting injury, management strategies, and clinical outcomes. Indian J Ophthalmol. 2018, 66:262-268. 10.4103/ijo.IJO_600_17
  10. Teoh SC, Lee JJ, Fam HB: Corneal honeybee sting. Can J Ophthalmol. 2005, 40:469-471. 10.1016/s0008-4182(05)80008-0
  11. Siddharthan KS, Raghavan A, Revathi R: Clinical features and management of ocular lesions after stings by hymenopteran insects. Indian J Ophthalmol. 2014, 62:248-251. 10.4103/0301-4738.128637
  12. Lin PH, Wang NK, Hwang YS, Ma DH, Yeh LK: Bee sting of the cornea and conjunctiva: management and outcomes. Cornea. 2011, 30:392-394. 10.1097/ICO.0b013e3181f234a6
  13. Gürlü VP, Erda N: Corneal bee sting-induced endothelial changes. Cornea. 2006, 25:981-983. 10.1097/01.ico.0000226364.57172.72
  14. Chauhan D: Corneal honey bee sting: endoilluminator-assisted removal of retained stinger. Int Ophthalmol. 2012, 32:285-288. 10.1007/s10792-012-9553-1
  15. Wehbe R, Frangieh J, Rima M, El Obeid D, Sabatier JM, Fajloun Z. Bee Venom: Overview of Main Compounds and Bioactivities for Therapeutic Interests. Molecules. 2019 Aug 19;24(16):2997. doi: 10.3390/molecules24162997. PMID: 31430861; PMCID: PMC6720840.
  16. Gilboa M, Gdal-On M, Zonis S: Bee and wasp stings of the eye. Retained intralenticular wasp sting: A case report. Br J Ophthalmol. 1977, 61:662-664. 10.1136/bjo.61.10.662
  17. Tuft SJ, Crompton DO, Coster DJ: Insect sting in a cornea. Am J Ophthalmol. 1985, 99:727-728. 10.1016/s0002-9394(14)76051-9
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  19. Rai RR, Gonzalez-Gonzalez LA, Papakostas TD, Siracuse-Lee D, Dunphy R, Fanciullo L, Cakiner-Egilmez T, Daly MK: Management of Corneal Bee Sting Injuries. Semin Ophthalmol. 2017, 32:177-181. 10.3109/08820538.2015.1045301
  20. Strebel J: [Aculeate injuries of the eye; tolerance for more than 20 years of a bee stinger lodged in the cornea and anterior chamber of the eye]. Ophthalmologica. 1950, 120:16-19. 10.1159/000300855
  21. Hammel N, Bahar I: Descemet-stripping automated endothelial keratoplasty after bee sting of the cornea. J Cataract Refract Surg. 2011, 37:1726-1728. 10.1016/j.jcrs.2011.06.020
  22. Olivo Payne A, Chong E: Bee sting to the cornea: toxic effects and management. Med J Aust. 2018, 209:155. 10.5694/mja17.01202
  23. Arcieri ES, França ET, de Oliveria HB, De Abreu Ferreira L, Ferreira MA, Rocha FJ: Ocular lesions arising after stings by hymenopteran insects. Cornea. 2002, 21:328-330. 10.1097/00003226-200204000-00019
  24. Ono T, Iida M, Mori Y, Nejima R, Iwasaki T, Amano S, Miyata K: Outcomes of bee sting injury: comparison of hornet and paper wasp. Jpn J Ophthalmol. 2018, 62:221-225. 10.1007/s10384-018-0563-z
  25. Nakatani Y, Nishimura A, Sugiyama K: Successful treatment of corneal wasp sting-induced panuveitis with vitrectomy. J Ophthalmic Inflamm Infect. 2013, 3:18. 10.1186/1869-5760-3-18