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Stanford University School of Medicine

“Like the surprise of being stabbed”: Ranking the pain of insect stings

waspIf you want to put your pain in perspective, take time to read any of the 78 descriptions of pain compiled by Justin O. Schmidt, PhD, known as the King of Sting. An entomologist at the University of Arizona’s Center for Insect Science, Schmidt took it upon himself to experience the stings of those insects in a selfless act of research.

A short version of the list was posted earlier this week by Atlas Obscura, an enterprise dedicated to various sorts of unusual, and the results are excruciating just to read. Take this one, for instance: “Rude. Insulting. An ember from your campfire is glued to your forearm.” Or: “There are gods, and they do throw thunderbolts. Poseidon has rammed his trident into your beast." Or: "Instantaneous, like the surprise of being stabbed. Is this what shrapnel feels like?"

For pain scientists, the list is a treasure trove of opportunities that might help people with non-insect sting pain, said Stanford Medicine pain specialist Beth Darnall, PhD. How people perceive and describe pain has long been a topic of research as scientists look for effective treatment, Darnall told me yesterday.

“While there is a big focus on rating pain on a 0-10 pain scale, Dr. Schmidt’s list of sting pain illustrates that the perception of pain extends beyond the simple numeric pain intensity scales that are basic to our field,” Darnall said. “It’s a fun way to get people thinking about pain perception."

She elaborated: "Pain is relevant to all of us, and the way you think about pain and the language you use is influential in how much pain you feel — and how much you suffer from it. How you react to pain can even influence the reactions of doctors who treat you. A bug bite that is experienced as minor pain for one person may be experienced as excruciating by a different person. Insects can teach us more about pain because it’s something everything can relate to."

Previously: "People are looking for better answers": A conversation about chronic painChronic pain: Getting your head around itMore progress in the quest for a "painometer" and Love blocks pain, Stanford study shows
Photo by Lesley Wilson

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