April 9, 2014
Bee Stings Hurt Most Where?
If a bee has ever stung you, you know it is not pleasant. The sting itself is pretty intense, but the reaction afterwards can be brutal. The throbbing, swelling, and general malaise felt near the puncture is just, well, icky. A bee sting feels bad no matter where it happens, but some places are definitely worse than others. Recently, National Geographic published an article that identified the worst places to get stung by a bee.
Michael Smith, a grad student at Cornell University who studies honeybees, decided to try to figure out just where on the body bee stings hurt the most. His interest began when a honeybee flew up his shorts and stung him on the testicles. Much to his surprise, the bee sting did not hurt as much as he thought, so he wanted to know just where it would hurt the most.
First, it is important to acknowledge Smith had a hard time finding hard data to support any one area being more painful than another. Justin Schmidt created the Schmidt Sting Pain Index, a scale measuring the painfulness of insect bites (and apparently explains them in really interesting read). Even he could not help.
That left Smith to try his own experiments…on himself. The only way he could see to perform such an experiment was to use his own body because otherwise the experiment would be subject to the review of Cornell University’s Human Research Protection Program. As the Nat Geo article explains,
“Smith was methodical. He collected bees by grabbing their wings ‘haphazardly with forceps’ and pressing them against the body part of choice. He left the stinger there for a full minute before removing it, and then rated his pain on a scale of 1 to 10. Pain is very hard to measure, but psychological studies have found that numerical scales do a decent job of putting numbers on an inherently subjective experience.
He administered five stings a day, always between 9 and 10am, and always starting and ending with “test stings” on his forearm to calibrate the ratings. He kept this up for 38 days, stinging himself three times each on 25 different body parts. ‘Some locations required the use of a mirror and an erect posture during stinging (e.g., buttocks),’ he wrote. If you are chuckling at the image of a man twisting around in front of a mirror to apply an agitated bee to his butt, I assure you that you are not alone.”
That’s right; Smith stung himself five times a day for 38 days.
What Smith found in himself is that the nose, upper lip, and penis shaft hurt the most for him. Naturally, someone else may have a different outcome based on their own levels of pain and other factors, but Smith said that the nose, upper lip, and penis were definitely the worst pain he felt. And of these, the nose caused him more pain than the other two. As he said of the nose in the Nat Geo article, “‘It’s electric and pulsating,’ he Smith. ‘Especially the nose. Your body really reacts. You’re sneezing and wheezing and snot is just dribbling out. Getting stung in the nose is a whole-body experience.’”
This got me to thinking about the nose. There are few places on the body that hurt worst than the nose when hit. Even if the nose does not break, when we hit our noses, our eyes tear up, snot starts flowing, and we feel a weirdness throughout our body. It is uncomfortable and painful and just icky. It makes sense to me, when thinking about the other pain and reactions of the nose, that a bee sting would hurt something wicked on the nose. It is a tender and sensitive area.
Of course, this study is subjective to just one individual’s reactions to almost 200 bee stings. Someone else may find a completely different area of the body as more painful. Until then, though, we know that the nose, upper lip, and penis hurt pretty spectacularly.
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