Allergens: Insect Stings

Insect stings that most commonly cause allergic reactions:
Insects that are members of the Hymenoptera family most commonly cause allergic reactions. These include:

  • bees

  • wasps

  • hornets

  • yellow jackets

  • fire ants

Allergic reactions to insect stings:
Usually, the reaction is short-lived, with redness and swelling followed by pain and itching. Generally, the reaction lasts only a few hours, although some may last longer.

For other people, however, allergic reactions to these insect stings can be life threatening. This severe reaction is a medical emergency that can involve organ systems throughout the body. The reaction is called anaphylaxis and can include severe symptoms such as:

  • itching and hives over most of the body

  • swelling of the throat and tongue

  • difficulty in breathing

  • dizziness

  • headache

  • stomach cramps, nausea, or diarrhea

  • rapid fall in blood pressure

  • shock

  • loss of consciousness.

Immediate medical attention is required.

Can insect stings be prevented?
Avoidance of insects is the best preventive measure. Suggestions include:

  • When outdoors, be careful of eating or drinking uncovered foods or beverages, which can attract insects.

  • Avoid going barefoot, and wear closed-toe shoes when walking in grassy areas.

  • When gardening, watch for nests in trees, shrubs, and flower beds.

  • Other areas in which to use caution: swimming pools, woodpiles, under eaves of houses, trash containers.

Treatment for insect stings:
Specific treatment for insect stings will be determined by your physician(s) based on:

  • your overall health and medical history
  • extent of the reaction
  • your tolerance for specific medications, procedures, or therapies
  • expectations for the course of the reaction
  • your opinion or preference

Suggestions for immediate treatment for highly-allergic people, according to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, include:

  • When possible, immediately remove stinger, and scrape over the area with a fingernail. However, do not squeeze the area, which may force the venom into the body.
  • An emergency treatment kit should be kept nearby at all times. Talk with your physician about what it should include.
  • Seek emergency care as soon as possible.