Insect Sting Allergy – Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment

What is an insect sting allergy?

Insect sting has worked as an excellent model for the allergic process over the past century. It is estimated that about 90 to 100 people die in United State each year due to insect stings.

Insect sting causes a minor reaction in most people. This may include some swelling, redness, or itching at the site of the sting. These minor symptoms of Insect Sting Allergy normally go within hours. Insect stings can cause a severe reaction in some people or even death.

What is an allergic reaction?

Your immune system replies to unknown substances with cells that can detect the specific attacker. Antibodies are one of the components of this system. These antibodies allow the immune system to recognize unknown substances, and play an important role in getting rid of them.

One of the types of these antibodies is known as immunoglobulin E (IgE), which is associated with the growth of allergic reactions.

If you have an insect sting allergy, your body produces antibodies (IgE) after the first sting. If stung again by the same kind of insect, the venom of the insect reacts with the antibody (IgE) and triggers an allergic reaction.

Symptoms of Sting Allergy

The reaction to an insect sting allergy varies from person to person. The symptoms of insect sting allergy can include:

  • Redness
  • Itchiness
  • Minor Swelling
  • Pain in the affected area

More severe symptoms include:

  • Hives
  • Flushed Skin
  • Vomiting and Nausea
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Faintness
  • Difficult Breathing
  • Diarrhea
  • Stomach Cramps

The most serious insect sting reaction is called Anaphylaxis (a potentially life-threatening allergic reaction), which can be fatal. Treatment is essential and often emergency help is needed. If you experience any of the symptoms you should seek medical attention immediately.

Swollen hand. Allergic reaction to insect sting.

What happens in an insect sting allergy reaction?

There are three major categories of allergic reactions to insect sting.

Large local reactions are severe swelling at the site of the sting. The swelling can affect an entire arm or leg. These reactions can be very uncomfortable but are not life-threatening unless the sting occurs on the neck or in the throat.

Urticaria (or hives) can occur all over the body. Adults who get hives but no other symptoms may have a more severe reaction if stung again. However, the risk in children under the age 16 years is lower – about 5-10%.

Anaphylaxis is the most severe reaction, can be life-threatening, and requires immediate attention. If a person has anaphylaxis, they can get hives, swelling of the mouth and/or throat, trouble breathing, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, and/or drop in blood pressure.

Call 911 if you have been stung by an insect and are having problems with your breathing or blood pressure. These reactions can be life-threatening

Which insects cause allergic reactions?

Insect sting allergies are most often caused by five kinds of insects.

  • Yellow jackets: These are black with yellow markings. Their nests are found in the ground, walls of buildings or wood piles.
  • Honeybees: These have a round, fuzzy body with dark brown and yellow markings. This bee usually leaves its stinger in its victim. Their honeycombs are in tree hollows, old tires or other places.
  • Paper wasps: These are slender with black, brown, red and yellow markings. They live under eaves, behind shutters, in shrubs or woodpiles.
  • Hornets: These are black or brown with white, orange or yellow markings. Their nests are grey or brown and usually found in trees or shrubs.
  • Fire ants: These are reddish-brown ants found mostly in warmer climates.

Bites from the following insects may cause anaphylaxis. It happens very rarely. These insects are

  • Bed bugs
  • Kissing bugs
  • Mosquitoes
  • Deer flies         

How is an insect sting allergy diagnosed?             

After discussing your medical history, your allergist may recommend a skin test to make a proper diagnosis. The most common insect allergy that your doctor will test for are bees, hornets, yellow jackets hornets, and wasps.

Your allergist should perform a skin prick test. In a skin prick test, a small amount of the allergen is pricked on the back or arm to trigger a reaction. This test takes about 15 to 20 minutes to proceed. Your allergist may recommend a blood test for further testing.

Treatment of Insect sting allergy

If you have had an insect sting allergic reaction, you should see an allergist. You can find out exactly which insects you need to avoid and what to do if they accidentally stung you. You may even be able to cure your insect sting allergy with immunotherapy, otherwise known as allergy shots.

Allergy specialists (allergists) and immunologists are physicians specialized in diagnosing allergies and prescribing allergy injection therapy for insect sting allergies.

If your test results come back positive, the allergist can make suggestions about your treatment. The treatment depends on the specific symptoms and medical history. Staying away from the insects you are allergic to is the best way to avoid an allergic reaction.

Venom immunotherapy or allergy shots, can help stronger your tolerance to allergy and decrease your chances of a life-threatening reaction (anaphylaxis) in the future.

How do you prevent being stung?

  • Avoid the “territory” of the stinging insect’s nest. These insects are more likely to sting if their homes are disturbed.
  • Hire a trained exterminator if you see any nests near your home.
  • Always remain calm and quiet and slowly move away from harmful stinging insects.
  • Avoid bright color clothing and perfume when outdoors.
  • Always be careful when cooking, eating or drinking sweet beverages or foods outdoors
  • Wear closed-toe shoes and avoid going barefoot outdoors.
  • Avoid loose-fitting garments that can trap insects between clothes and skin.

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