Insect stings typically result in pain, swelling, and redness confined to the sting site. More severe reactions include symptoms appearing over a wider area (for example, swelling of your whole arm if you were stung on your wrist) or affecting other parts of the body from where the sting occurred.
Allergic reactions to stings can occur even after many normal reactions to stings and at any age. It has been estimated that potentially life-threatening allergic reactions to insect venom occur in 0.4 percent to 0.8 percent of children and 3 percent of adults. Insect sting reactions account for at least 40 deaths each year in the United States.
The majority of insect stings in the United States come from wasps, yellow jackets, hornets, and bees. The red or black imported fire ant now infests more than 260 million acres in the southern United States, where it has become a significant health hazard and may be the number one agent of insect stings. While there are native fire ant species, the species that causes the most problems for us were accidentally imported to the United States from South America.
Symptoms of Being Allergic to Insect Stings
The stings of five insects – honeybees, hornets, wasps, yellow jackets and fire ants – are known to cause allergic reactions. The severity of an insect sting reaction varies from person to person and from one sting to the next. You may not experience an allergic reaction until you have been stung several times.
There are three types of reactions that can occur:
A normal local reaction will result in pain, swelling, and redness confined to the sting site.
A large local reaction will result in swelling well beyond the sting site. For example, a sting on the forearm could cause the whole arm to swell – a condition that usually peaks two to three days after the sting and can last a week or more.
A systemic allergic reaction is the most serious and requires medical attention. Symptoms of a systemic allergic reaction can range from mild to severe. They may include the following (either alone or in combination):
- Swelling in areas away from the sting
- Dizziness or a sharp drop in blood pressure
- A hoarse voice, swelling of the tongue or difficulty swallowing
- Hives, itching, and swelling in areas other than the sting site
- Abdominal cramping, vomiting, intense nausea or diarrhea
- Unconsciousness or cardiac arrest
Anaphylaxis – a severe, life-threatening allergic reaction that impairs breathing, causes a sudden drop in blood pressure and can send the body into shock – can occur within minutes of a sting. A dose of epinephrine (adrenaline), typically administered in an epinephrine auto-injector, and immediate medical attention is required.
When to see an allergist?
People who have already experienced a systemic allergic reaction to an insect sting are at risk of a similar or worse reaction if they are stung again. Those who have had a possible systemic allergic reaction to an insect sting should carry two epinephrine auto-injectors.
We may recommend immunotherapy for those with stinging insect allergies, this can build up a patient’s tolerance over time and provides up to 98% protection if they get stung again. This can reduce the risk of having a severe reaction and improve patients quality of life.
Don’t keep suffering from allergies. Schedule an appointment today with one of our board-certified allergists.