The average person who has ever been bitten by an insect usually develops redness and swelling from the bite/sting. People who are allergic to the venom of stinging insects, however, are at risk for a very serious reaction called anaphylaxis. You should familiarize yourself with the difference between a normal reaction and an allergic reaction. For safety’s sake, if you have any idea that you may be allergic to stinging insects, you should make an appointment to see one of our allergists for an accurate diagnosis.
The normal reaction in most people to an insect sting or bite is to develop redness, pain and swelling at the sting site.
In people that are allergic, a much more serious reaction can develop when the immune system overreacts to the venom, causing symptoms in several parts of the body (not just at the sting location).
- Difficulty breathing
- Swelling that may include the tongue, throat or face
- Abdominal cramps
- Diarrhea or nausea
- Hives or itchiness over a large section of the body
This severe reaction is called anaphylaxis.
In addition, insect stings can act like a poison in the body and cause very severe symptoms that are not allergic but toxic. A toxic reaction can cause symptoms similar to those of an allergic reaction, including swelling at the site of the sting, nausea, fever, fainting, seizures, shock and eventually death. A toxic reaction is possible after only a single sting, but it usually takes many stings to produce this severe reaction.
Another type of reaction is serum sickness, an unusual reaction to a foreign substance in the body that can occur hours or days after the sting.
If you have any suspicions about a stinging insect allergy, it’s important to get an accurate diagnosis. Our doctors have specialized training and experience in determining the cause of any symptoms. We start by conducting a thorough health history followed by routine allergy testing to determine what allergens may put you at risk to a serious reaction from a stinging insect.
Treatment & Management
The key to managing this allergy is to avoid contact with stinging insects. Keep these tips in mind:
When their nests are disturbed, insects are most likely to sting. If there are hives or nests around your home, have them destroyed by a trained exterminator.
- Remain quiet and calm when you spot stinging insects, and slowly move away.
- Don’t wear perfume or brightly colored clothing outdoors. You might be confused with a flower by a stinging insect on the lookout for food.
- When eating or drinking outdoors, be sure to keep food and drinks covered, especially sweet beverages like juice or soda.
Avoid going barefoot or wearing open toed shoes, sandals or flip-flops to avoid accidentally stepping on a stinging insect.
- Don’t wear loose-fitting garments that can potentially trap insects between skin and material.
If you do get stung, inject epinephrine immediately and call 9-1-1. Always keep an EpiPen or similar with you, especially when going outdoors.
If you experience a serious reaction to an insect’s sting, schedule an appointment with one of our allergists for a proper diagnosis. The doctor can determine the best form of treatment.
We may suggest immunotherapy for effective long-term treatment. This involves giving small doses of your allergen to help your body develop a natural immunity to the trigger allergen.