Enlarge / Avoid getting these near your eyeball.

There are precious few things that could truly make 2020 worse than it already is. But a rare bee sting right to the eyeball might be one of them.

Doctors this week published an image of just such an uncommon ocular impaling. The image, appearing in the New England Journal of Medicine, also included a brief report of the patient’s condition and recovery. The details confirm that although reading about this horror show of a year may sometimes feel like getting repeatedly stabbed in the peepers, the real thing is actually far more unpleasant.

The patient was a 22-year-old male who showed up at a hospital’s emergency department with redness, pain, and decreased vision in his left eye, which had taken a bee sting about an hour earlier. Though the man had 20/20 vision in his right eye, he reported only being able to see hand movements close to his face with his left eye.

With a closer look (see here), the doctors reported seeing diffuse haziness in his left eye due to swelling, and—most obvious—a bee stinger still jutting out from his eyeball, surrounded by some eye gunk. Specifically, the small spear was embedded in the man’s cornea—the clear, dome-shaped outer layer of tissue at the front of the eye that helps focus light.

Close-up shot of a bee's stinger
Enlarge / Close-up shot of a bee’s stinger

Corneal run-throughs with a bee stinger are rare, the doctors note. But when they do occur, there’s a risk of the corneal tissue failing and becoming cloudy (corneal decompensation). There’s also the possibility of secondary glaucoma, in which pressure inside the eye increases and causes optic nerve damage and vision loss.

The doctors gave the man some antibiotic eye drops and a local anesthetic before pulling the stinger out. They then thoroughly cleaned the puncture wound and closed it up with corneal sutures. Finally, they gave the man two weeks’ worth of prescriptions for glucocorticoids, antibiotics, and eye medications that together tried to prevent inflammation, pain, and secondary infection.

In a relatively happy ending, a three-month follow-up visit revealed that the man’s eye largely recovered. The corneal swelling had gone down completely, and the man’s vision in his left eye was 20/40.

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