Many people are stung by insects each year and while most people are not allergic to the insect stings, about 5% of the U.S. population is at risk for developing a severe potentially life-threatening reaction called anaphylaxis.
A normal reaction to an insect sting varies from person to person and can result in pain, redness, itching, and swelling. A large local reaction can result in swelling that extends beyond the sting site causing an arm or finger, for example, to swell twice its size.
An allergic reaction is the most serious reaction and requires immediate medical attention. Symptoms of an allergic reaction can include hives, itching, and swelling in areas other than the sting site, hoarseness of voice, or swelling of the tongue. Anaphylaxis, an even more severe reaction, can occur within minutes after the sting and is life-threatening. Symptoms of anaphylaxis include tightness in the chest, difficulty in breathing, dizziness, loss of consciousness, and cardiac arrest.
People who have experienced an allergic reaction to an insect sting have a 60% chance of a similar or worse reaction if stung again.
Most insect stings in the U.S. come from honeybees, paper wasps, yellow jackets, yellow hornets, white-faced hornets, and fire ants.
Our clinic provides a comprehensive evaluation based on history and allergy testing to find out which type of stinging insect caused the reaction. Venom Immunotherapy allergy shots, are a highly effective treatment that can prevent future allergic reactions to stinging insects.
Common reactions to insects are swelling and redness at the site of an insect bite. However, people who are severely allergic can have a life threatening reaction called Anaphylaxis. These serious reactions can be triggered by honeybees, yellow jackets, paper wasps, hornets and fire ants. Avoiding these insects can be difficult; however certain measures such as avoiding brightly colored clothing and perfumes while outdoors can help. Covering sodas and sweet meals while camping or cooking outdoors and wearing closed toes shoes can also help if you experience anaphylaxis due to insects, carrying an epinephrine auto-injector in order to immediately use it is indicated.
Our doctors will help you diagnose the exact insect and guide you on avoidance and treatment. Allergen desensitization or “allergy shots” are an effective long-term treatment for this type of allergy. Our doctors will prescribe injections with increasing amounts of the allergen in order to allow your body to build immunity.
To avoid stinging insects, it is important to learn what they look like and where they live. Most sting reactions are caused by five types of insects: yellow jackets, honeybees, paper wasps, hornets and fire ants.
Yellow jackets are black with yellow markings, and are found in various climates. Their nests, which are made of a papier-machï¿½ material, are usually located underground, but can sometimes be found in the walls of frame buildings, cracks in masonry or woodpiles.
Honeybees have a rounded, "fuzzy" body with dark brown coloring and yellow markings. Upon stinging, the honeybee usually leaves its barbed stinger in its victim; the bee dies as a result. Honeybees are nonaggressive and will only sting when provoked. However, Africanized honeybees, or so-called "killer bees" found in the southwestern United States and South and Central America, are more aggressive and may sting in swarms. Domesticated honeybees live in man-made hives, while wild honeybees live in colonies or "honeycombs" in hollow trees or cavities of buildings. Africanized honeybees may nest in holes in house frames, between fence posts, in old tires or holes in the ground, or other partially protected sites.
Paper wasps' slender, elongated bodies are black, brown, or red with yellow markings. Their nests are also made of a paper-like material that forms a circular comb of cells which opens downward. The nests are often located under eaves, behind shutters, or in shrubs or woodpiles.
Hornets are black or brown with white, orange or yellow markings and are usually larger than yellow jackets. Their nests are gray or brown, football-shaped, and made of a paper material similar to that of yellow jackets' nests. Hornets' nests are usually found high above ground on branches of trees, in shrubbery, on gables or in tree hollows.
Fire ants are reddish brown to black stinging insects related to bees and wasps. They build nests of dirt in the ground that may be quite tall (18 inches) in the right kinds of soil. Fire ants may attack with little warning: after firmly grasping the victim's skin with its jaws, the fire ant arches its back as it inserts its rear stinger into the skin. It then pivots at the head and may inflict multiple stings in a circular pattern. Fire ant venom often causes an immediate burning sensation.
Last updated : 2/10/2023