Eye doctors are no strangers to bugs in and around the eye. Demodex can be found in 40.2% of patients suffering from ocular discomfort, and everything from gnats to worms can find their way into a patient’s eye.1 But ophthalmologists at Fooyin University Hospital in Taiwan had a first-of-its-kind encounter with a woman who presented urgently for swollen lids, ocular pain and excessive tearing: bees.2

The woman had been visiting and tidying a relative’s grave the previous day when she felt something get in her eye. Thinking it was dirt, she rinsed it out and went on with her day. That night, her eyelids began to swell, and she felt a stinging pain that led to constant tearing. At the hospital the next morning, a doctor discovered moving insect legs when examining her eye behind the slit lamp. The doctor proceeded to carefully remove four live Halictidae, or sweat bees, which had been feeding on the woman’s tears.

While a first for these doctors, sweat bees have been known to enjoy human tears now and then. A study from Thailand found more than 262 cases of these insects drinking human tears. These researchers noted the bees “were relatively gentle visitors,” and usually landed on the lower lids for short periods of time, “often singly but occasionally in congregations of 5–7 specimens per eye.”3 This most recent case in Taiwan, however, was far from gentle. The bees had found their way under her eyelids to gain access to her tear ducts.

The doctors were relieved she didn’t rub her eyes, which could have exacerbated the inflammation and possibly caused corneal damage. 

1. Rabensteiner DF, Aminfar H, Boldin I, et al. Demodex mite infestation and its associations with tear film and ocular surface parameters in patients with ocular discomfort. Am J Ophthalmol. March 15, 2019. [Epub ahead of print].

2. Bella T. She went to the hospital for an infection. Doctors found four bees living in her eye, eating her tears. Washington Post. www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2019/04/10/she-went-hospital-an-infection-doctors-found-four-bees-living-her-eye-eating-her-tears/?fbclid=IwAR2q-h6YJAkdwuY3W9_2FswpZr9xZfCm95Ea--x64Ih0oRU1Pi6AYPnAtuA&noredirect=on&utm_term=.804daa289754. April 10, 2019.

3. Bänziger H, Boongird S, Sukumalanand P, Bänziger S. Bees (Hymenoptera: Apidae) that drink human tears. J Kans Entomol Soc. 2009;82(2):135-50.