Insect Allergy

It is estimated that over 13.5 million may be at risk for anaphylaxis due to insect stings. Reactions can happen at any age and can even occur after you have had a normal local reaction in the past. Most everyone will react to an insect sting in some way, however, the severity of the reaction varies by individual. Some may not experience a reaction until they have been stung several times.

The top five stinging insects that cause severe allergic reactions are: bees, wasps, hornets, yellow jackets, and fire ants. Patients with insect sting allergy are at risk of having a life threatening reaction each time they are stung.

There are three types of reactions to insect stings:

Normal Local Reaction:

Redness and swelling confined to the general area of the sting.

Large Local Reaction:

Redness, swelling, and itching that may or may not be confined to the general area of the sting. In most instances, these reactions are not dangerous. For example, a sting on the thumb results in the swelling of the whole hand. Contact your allergy specialist if you have concerns about a large local reaction.

Systemic Reaction:

Experience symptoms beyond localized swelling, such as hives, throat closure, flushing. This type of reaction may advance into anaphylaxis, which is a life threatening allergic reaction that impairs breathing, causes sudden drop in blood pressure and can send the body into shock within minutes of a sting.


  • Generalized Itching

  • Hives

  • Excessive Swelling

  • Difficulty Breathing

  • Throat Swelling

  • Dizziness

  • Loss of Consciousness

  • Drop In Blood Pressure

  • Intense Nausea/Cramping


  • Wear shoes while walking in the grass

  • Avoid nests – garden with care

  • 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 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

  • Keep picnic foods covered. Cover a soft drink can after opening to prevent an insect from falling in

Patients who think they might be allergic to insect stings should see an allergy specialist for insect allergy testing. Patients who are found to be allergic will be educated on methods to avoid future stings and will be prescribed self-injectable epinephrine to use in an emergency. Those that have experienced a systemic reaction to an insect sting are at risk for similar or worse reactions if they are stung again.

Venom Immunotherapy (allergy shots) to stinging insects will dramatically reduce the likelihood of anaphylaxis from future stings and may result in a permanent cure. Over 90% of patients who complete venom immunotherapy will never suffer from a systemic reaction again.

Here in the Lowcountry, fire ants cause a majority of insect sting allergies. Additionally, because fire ants are so widespread and active year round in the Lowcountry, it can be very hard to avoid future stings even with appropriate precaution.

If you or someone you know has experienced a life threatening insect sting reaction, make an appointment today to see one of our board certified allergists.