Atlanta Allergy & Asthma News

How to Tell When You’re Having a Normal Reaction to an Insect Sting and When It’s Something to Worry About

Updated on Thursday, June 1, 2023

For many of us, summer brings increased time outdoors and increased exposure to insects. Although everyone will react in some way to the venom of stinging insects, an allergist is an expert who can explain the difference between an allergic reaction and a normal reaction.

Most people stung by a honeybee, hornet, wasp, yellow jacket, or fire ants will experience discomfort around the sting site. This may include pain or discomfort, as well as swelling and redness. However, the most serious reaction to an insect sting is an allergic one. If you experience any of the following symptoms, seek immediate medical attention:

  • Hives, itching and swelling in areas other than the sting site
  • Abdominal cramping, vomiting, severe nausea or diarrhea
  • Tightness in the chest, difficulty breathing
  • Hoarse voice or swelling of the tongue or throat, or difficulty swallowing

Anaphylaxis, the most severe allergic reaction, can occur within minutes after the sting and may be life-threatening. Epinephrine, typically administered in an auto-injector, and immediate medical attention are required. Symptoms may include:

  • Dizziness or a sharp drop in blood pressure
  • Loss of consciousness or cardiac arrest

People who have experienced an allergic reaction to an insect sting have a 60% chance of a similar or worse reaction if stung again.

The allergists at Atlanta Allergy & Asthma can perform testing for insect venom allergy as well as provide allergen immunotherapy (allergy shots) for people that test positive for this type of allergy. This is a highly effective therapy that can prevent future reactions from occurring. Initially, the shots are weekly, but after a few months patients will receive them once a month. For most patients they will be continued for up to five years.

All people with a history of anaphylaxis to an insect sting should have emergency epinephrine injectors nearby. Epinephrine should be used as soon as a reaction starts and the person should then go to the ER or call 911 for emergency assistance. If you experience a significant allergic reaction of any kind, consult an allergist as soon as possible.

Atlanta Allergy & Asthma provides complete allergy services for testing and treatment for insect sting allergies. Contact the office nearest you if this is a health concern of yours or of a family member.