Insect Allergies

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 stinging insects:

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Normal Local Reaction – redness and swelling restricted 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.

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. These types of reactions are not usually 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. Often 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, wasps or fire ants, if warranted, is a potential treatment option. Venom Immunotherapy can reduce the likelihood of anaphylaxis by more than 95% from future stings and may result in permanent desensitization to the insect venom.

The top five 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.

Systemic Reaction

Experience symptoms beyond localized swelling, such as hives, throat closure, flushing. Please see list of symptoms below. 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.

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.

Symptoms

  • Generalized Itching

  • Hives

  • Excessive Swelling

  • Difficulty Breathing

  • Throat Swelling

  • Dizziness

  • Loss of Consciousness

  • Drop In Blood Pressure

  • Intense Nausea/Cramping

Precautions

  • 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