Stung By Allergies

  • Do insect stings trigger your allergies? No one likes to get stung by an insect. Most of us will suffer at least minor discomfort during and after insect stings. But a few of us may have allergic reactions ranging from mild to severe and even life threatening.


    What happens in these cases is that your immune system overreacts to the venom injected by a stinging insect. In response, your body produces an allergic substance called Immunoglobulin E (IgE) antibody, which reacts with the insect venom.


    Then, the next time you are stung by that type of insect, the insect venom interacts with the IgE antibodies that were produced in response to the first sting. And that, in turn, causes histamine and other chemicals to be released that trigger your allergy symptoms.

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    Symptoms can progress rapidly and should not be ignored. Here are common warning signs that you may be going into a severe allergic reaction called anaphylaxis:

    • itching and hives over large areas of the body
    • swelling in the throat or tongue
    • difficulty breathing
    • dizziness
    • stomach cramps
    • nausea
    • diarrhea
    • rapid fall in blood pressure resulting in shock and loss of consciousness

    Most allergic reactions to insect stings are caused by 1 of 5 different types of insects:

    • yellow jackets
    • honeybees
    • paper wasps
    • hornets
    • fire ants

    Obviously, your best strategy if you're allergic to insect stings is to avoid getting stung. Here are some tips to help make that easier.

    1. Stay away from places the insect tends to nest. For example, wasps love to nest under the eaves of a roof or in other dark, out of the way spots.
    2. If you encounter stinging insects, stay calm. Move away as quickly and quietly as you can.
    3. Don't lead the insect to believe you are a flower; in other words, avoid wearing brightly colored clothing and perfume.
    4. The smell of food attracts insects, so be careful when cooking, eating, or drinking sweet drinks like soda or juice outdoors.
    5. Avoid going barefoot outdoors or even wearing open toed or heeled shoes and sandals.

    If you do get stung, quickly pull out the stinger if there is one, or brush the insect carefully off your body. Then move away from the area. Then, elevate your affected arm or leg and apply ice or a cold compress to reduce swelling and pain.


    If you have blisters after a sting, wash them gently with soap and water to prevent secondary infections; do not break them open or scratch at them, even if they itch. You can also use topical steroid ointments or oral antihistamines to relieve any itching.


    Be sure to see your doctor if the sting site becomes infected or if you are having any other symptoms. If you know that you have severe reactions, you may want to talk with your doctor about prescribing an auto-injectable syringe containing epinephrine. One brand is the Epi-Pen®.


    Injectable epinephrine is only part of the treatment you will need, so be sure to get emergency care right away. You may also want to wear a medic alert bracelet to make sure you get the care you need even if you were to lose consciousness.


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    Allergy shots are known to help prevent sting reaction in 97 percent of treated patients, too, so you may want to talk with your doctor to see if they might be right for you.


    For more information, see the Tips to Remember booklet from the American Academy of Asthma Allergy & Immunology.

Published On: June 05, 2007