Not only are we afraid of insect stings, but insects are afraid of us when they are busy gathering food in the spring and summer. To protect themselves they sometimes sting us when we cross paths. Thousands of folks go to emergency departments each year due to insect stings.
Most stings only result in a small area of discomfort at the sting site with pain, redness, swelling and itching. Some patients have a bigger reaction, and their sting site can increase in size to over five inches in diameter over a couple days’ time. Even in these folks, no more than 5-10 percent experience broader symptoms outside of the sting area like hives or flushing.
Of most concern with insect allergies is anaphylaxis – a whole-body reaction that is potentially life-threatening. Symptoms may include wheezing, difficulty breathing or swallowing, or a decrease in blood pressure or fainting. Fortunately, less than 1 percent of children and only 3 percent of adults are estimated to have an anaphylactic allergic response to insect stings.
Most insect stings in America come from wasps, hornets, yellowjackets and honeybees. Fire ants have now infested millions of acres in the southern United States and are a substantial health hazard. All these creatures make and inject venom through their stingers.
Symptoms of Insect Allergies:
- Flushing or hives
- Difficulty breathing
- Difficulty swallowing
- Decreased blood pressure and shock
Causes of Insect Allergies:
Insect allergies are caused by the injected venom. The stinger should be removed quickly with your fingernail. Local reactions are not necessarily allergic in nature. When symptoms like hives, flushing and itching are outside of the area of the sting, immediate medical attention is needed for these truly allergic symptoms. In rare cases, these symptoms may lead to anaphylaxis.
Insect allergies are caused by your body producing antibodies to insect venom exposure. Then the next time you are stung, your body overreacts to the venom and causes release of chemicals like histamine from your immune cells. These chemicals cause your insect allergy symptoms.
Treatment Options for Insect Allergies:
- Lifestyle modifications – following up on your venom allergy testing results, we can help you avoid exposure to specific insects that trigger your allergies
- Medications – can help control your inflammation and symptoms of insect allergies, such as antihistamines and corticosteroids like prednisone
- Emergency treatment – an epinephrine (adrenaline) auto-injector is prescribed for insect allergies to be used in emergencies. Other emergency treatments may include IV fluids or steroids, oxygen, and close medical observation
- Venom immunotherapy – this long-term treatment of insect allergy can prevent your future allergic reactions to insect stings