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Stinging Insect Allergies

Stinging Insect Allergies

Bees / Wasps / Hornets / Jackets

When some insects bite or sting, they inject a tiny amount of a powerful venom into their victims. While this venom causes pain and minor swelling for most people, it can trigger a potentially dangerous or even life-threatening reaction in people who are allergic.

It’s difficult to avoid insect stings entirely, especially for people who enjoy spending time outdoors. That’s why getting testing for insect allergies and considering immunotherapy treatment can be a helpful — and possibly life-saving — action to take.

Which insects cause allergic reactions? What are the symptoms of an allergic reaction to insect stings? 

The stinging insects that most commonly cause allergic reactions include:

  • Honey bees
  • Wasps
  • Hornets
  • Yellow jackets
  • Fire ants

While pain and some swelling or itching at the site of the sting is to be expected, some people experience mild to moderate allergic reactions that spread to other parts of the body.

Allergic reaction symptoms could include:

  • Itching or hives in other parts of the body
  • Stomach cramps, vomiting or diarrhea
  • Difficulty breathing or tightness in the chest
  • Swelling of the throat or tongue, or difficulty swallowing
  • Signs of anaphylaxis, a severe and potentially life-threatening reaction usually marked by impaired breathing, dizziness, loss of consciousness, and cardiac arrest

People who experience an allergic reaction to an insect sting once are often at high risk for more severe reactions in the future.

Stinging Insect Allergies

How will an allergist test for insect sting allergies? 

Allergists can use a skin test, sometimes called a scratch test or prick test, to determine which insect venoms a person is allergic to.

As with other allergies, a person’s history with previous stings is an important part of the diagnosis process. But because it can often be difficult to know what type of insect caused a sting, your allergist will likely test multiple insect venoms during your skin test.

Tiny amounts of each venom are applied to the skin, and the allergist reads the results after about 15 minutes. If the text is negative, your doctor may recommend an intradermal test, where a small amount of the venom is injected just under the surface of your skin. If a patient has a history of severe allergic reactions to stings, a blood test may offer a safer way to diagnose the allergy.

People with insect allergies should carry injectable epinephrine, sometimes called an Epi-Pen, to be used in the case of a sting. Immunotherapy, or allergy shots, are also a good option to help an allergic person increase their tolerance to insect venom.

If you think you may be allergic to a stinging insect, make an appointment to meet with an allergist and learn more.


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