Allergen: Insect Stings

The insects that sting

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

The reactions are usually at the site of the sting, with redness, swelling, pain and itching. Generally, the reaction lasts only a few hours, although some may last longer.

For some people, allergic reactions to insect stings can be life-threatening. 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 breathing and tightness in the chest
  • Dizziness
  • Headache
  • Stomach cramps, nausea, or diarrhea
  • Rapid fall in blood pressure
  • Shock
  • Loss of consciousness

Seek immediate medical attention.

Preventing stings

Preventive measures include:

  • Keep food covered when eating outdoors.
  • Be careful with open drink bottles, or cans. Insects can fly or crawl inside them.
  • Avoid perfumes, hair products, and deodorants.
  • Avoid wearing bright, flowered clothing.
  • Avoid going barefoot, and wearing sandals in grassy areas.
  • When gardening, watch for nests in trees, shrubs, and flower beds.
  • Be careful near swimming pools, woodpiles, under eaves of houses, and trash containers.

Treatment for stings

Suggestions for treatment for highly allergic people include:

  • Immediately remove the stinger by scraping it with a fingernail. Do not squeeze the stinger, which may force the venom into the body.
  • Always carry epinephrine self-injections called Epi-pens. Make sure you and those close to you know how to use them.
  • With severe symptoms, get emergency treatment as soon as possible.

Talk with your healthcare provider about getting an epinephrine self-injector if you don't already have one. Ask about whether you need immunotherapy or allergy shots.

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