For most people, insect stings are not serious, however if you have a stinging insect allergy, the venom from a stinging insect could cause a severe and, in some cases, life-threatening reaction. The good news is that there are effective treatments available that can help reduce the severity of a reaction and prevent complications from occurring.
When you are stung by an insect, the venom that is injected into the skin can cause an allergic reaction. Although for most people this will be a mild reaction, such as localized pain, redness, swelling, and itchiness at the site of the sting, for some it can cause a severe, life-threatening reaction.
In the United States, honeybees, wasps, yellow jackets, hornets, and fire ants are the most common types of insects to cause an allergic reaction when they sting. The severity of an insect sting reaction varies considerably from person to person. Insects such as fire ants, wasps, and yellow jackets can also sting repeatedly, which can make a reaction more severe.
Treatment for Insect Stings
Minor allergic reactions can usually be treated successfully with self-care, such as:
- Safely removing the stinger if it is left in the skin (bee stings). This should be done by scraping the area with a straight edge, as directly pulling out the stinger may release more venom, making the reaction worse.
- Washing the sting area with soap and water.
- Elevating the affected area to reduce swelling.
- Applying a cold compress/ice pack to control swelling.
- Taking over-the-counter medications, such as ibuprofen or antihistamine, to reduce symptoms such as pain or itching.
- Applying topical corticosteroid ointments to relieve itching and swelling.
- Avoiding scratching the affected area, as this could lead to infection.
For larger local reactions that cause wider areas of swelling (usually more than 3 inches around the sting), the same treatment can be used, but the area should be monitored. If symptoms do not improve within a few days or seem to be getting worse, you should seek medical advice.
Some insect stings can cause a severe life-threatening allergic reaction, known as anaphylaxis. If you experience a serious allergic reaction, this requires emergency medical treatment. A serious reaction can cause hives, itching, and swelling in areas outside of the sting site, difficulty breathing or swallowing, stomach cramps, dizziness, swelling of the tongue and throat,and hoarseness, which can lead to a loss of consciousness anda sharp drop in blood pressure. Epinephrine medication is required at the first sign of anaphylaxis to prevent life-threatening complications. Immediate medical attention is required even after a dose of epinephrine is administered.
If you have had an allergic reaction to an insect sting in the past, you have a 60% chance of a similar or more severe allergic reaction if you are stung again. You should visit an allergist if you have a severe allergy to insect stings. They are skilled providers who specialize in the management of insect and other allergies.
Treatment will include finding ways to minimize the chance of insect stings and a prescription for epinephrine auto-injector (EAI) medication to prevent serious allergic reactions in the future. This medication must be carried at all times.
How Immunotherapy Can Help
For long term protection against severe allergic responses, your allergist may recommend venom immunotherapy (allergy shots). This is based on your medical history along with certain tests to determine if you are a candidate for treatment.
Immunotherapy treatment works by gradually exposing the body to minute quantities of an allergen, in this case insect venom, which over time causes the immune system to become less sensitive to it. A series of increasing doses of the allergen substance are injected over a period of time, which builds up a tolerance to the venom, providing greater protection if you get stung again.
Venom immunotherapy is a long-term treatment. The length of venom immunotherapy varies depending on many factors, such as how severe past reactions have been and the risk of future stings. In some cases, it can take years to ensure the desired effects are achieved and to sustain protection. Overall, immunotherapy can significantly improve quality of life,resulting in significantly less severe reaction if stung in the future. In some people, it can even prevent an allergic response altogether.
Stinging Insect Allergy Relief in Northeast Illinois
If you have a stinging insect allergy, visit the expert allergists at Oak Brook Allergists. We provide comprehensive allergy and asthma health care for patients of all ages and offer a wide range of diagnostic allergy tests and effective treatments such as venom allergy shots, oral immunotherapy, and medications to improve your quality of life and reduce your risk of severe allergic reactions.
To find out if you are a candidate for immunotherapy, call our allergy specialists today at (630) 574-0460 or request an appointment online. We offer extended and weekend hours to ensure you get the care you need as quickly as possible.