Allergen: 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 and tightness in the chest
  • dizziness
  • headache
  • stomach cramps, nausea, or diarrhea
  • rapid fall in blood pressure
  • shock
  • loss of consciousness
  • hoarse voice or swelling of the tongue

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 based on:

  • your age, 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.

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