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Insect Sting Allergies

Most everyone will react in some way to stinging insects, but up to 13.5 million people in the U.S. may be at risk of anaphylaxis, a life threatening allergic reaction.

There are three types of reactions to insect stings:

  1. Local reaction: swelling and redness confined to the general area of the sting. Generally these are not dangerous.
  2. Large local reaction: symptoms include swelling, redness and itching that may or may not be confined to the general area of the sting. Generally these reactions are not dangerous, but very large areas of swelling may warrant further evaluation. Contact your allergist if you have questions about a large local reaction.
  3. Systemic Reaction: an allergic reaction that results in symptoms other than localized swelling. Symptoms may include itching, hives or swelling away from the sting site. This type of reaction may progress to anaphylaxis. Anaphylaxis is a life threatening allergic reaction which can include tightness in the chest and difficulty breathing, throat tightness, dizziness, a sharp drop in blood pressure, unconsciousness or cardiac arrest. If you have auto-injectable epinephrine, use it immediately. Then seek immediate medical attention.

Anyone who has experienced an allergic reaction in the past has a significantly increased chance of a similar or worse reaction if stung again. If you have experienced an allergic reaction of any kind, consult a board certified allergist as soon as possible. Your allergist will perform an evaluation to determine the most appropriate treatment plan. Venom Immunotherapy (allergy shots) to bees or fire ants, if warranted, is a potential treatment option. Venom Immunotherapy can dramatically reduce the likelihood of anaphylaxis from future stings and may result in a permanent cure.

The top 5 stinging insects that may produce serious reactions are hornets, yellow jackets, wasps, honey bees and fire ants. Protect yourself and your family by becoming familiar with the types of reactions and what action to take in the event someone is stung.

Anyone with insect allergies should take the following precautions:

  • Wear shoes while walking in the grass.
  • Avoid nests – garden with care.
  • Stay away from trash cans.
  • Avoid perfumes, scented cosmetics, and bright-colored clothing, which seem to attract stinging insects.
  • Avoid open footwear and loose-fitting clothes that can trap insects.
  • Keep insecticide in the car in case an insect inadvertently gets inside.
  • Try not to do outdoor activities by yourself. You may need help starting emergency treatment.
  • Keep picnic foods covered. Cover a soft drink can after opening to prevent an insect from falling in.
  • Keep your Epinephrine Auto injector with you at all times. It won’t do much good if you are at work or at school and your emergency medication is at home.

Useful Resources

American College of Allergy Asthma & Immunology

American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology