Summer is almost here. Now that more people are vaccinated and restrictions are being lifted across the country, it’s time to enjoy being outside with friends again. But before you head out for that long-awaited barbeque or picnic, don’t forget to apply insect repellent, especially if you’ve ever had an allergic reaction to insect stings. Insects are cold-blooded animals, which means they are more active (and more prolific) in warmer temperatures. So, it’s important to “bee” prepared.
While insect stings are often harmless, causing only mild stinging or itching, they can sometimes trigger a life-threatening allergic reaction that requires urgent medical care. In fact, 5 to 7.5% of people in the United States will experience a severe allergic reaction to insect stings in their lifetime—but most aren’t aware of their allergy until they’re stung.
How do I know if you are allergic to insect stings?
If someone in your family is allergic to insect stings, you may be wondering if you are too. Your doctor can tell you if you’re allergic to bees, hornets or wasps with a simple skin test that uses purified, freeze-dried venom. During the test, your doctor will clean an area of skin on your arm or back and place a small amount of this purified, freeze-dried venom on your skin and cover it. The tests usually take 15 minutes and will help identify which insects you are allergic to.
Signs of a dangerous allergic reaction to insect stings
Stings from honeybees, hornets, wasps, yellow jackets and fire ants are known to cause allergic reactions to the venom injected into the skin. Mild symptoms include a large, swollen welt and extreme redness around the sting site. Symptoms should subside within 48 hours.
Signs and symptoms of a severe allergic reaction include:
- Itching and hives throughout the body
- Swelling of the throat and tongue
- Tightness in the chest and difficulty breathing
- Dizziness, nausea and fainting
- Stomach cramps and diarrhea
- Rapid fall in blood pressure, resulting in shock and possible loss of consciousness
How to treat an allergic reaction to insect stings
After any sting, look for and remove the stinger as soon as possible and wash the area with a mild soap and warm water. Mild reactions include redness, warmth and swelling around the sting. Apply a cold compress and take an over-the-counter antihistamine to help alleviate these symptoms. You can also apply hydrocortisone cream or calamine lotion to ease symptoms.
If you are experiencing a severe allergic reaction to an insect sting (one or more of the symptoms listed above), call 911 or go to your nearest urgent care facility. If you know you have an allergy and symptoms of anaphylaxis develop, immediately inject epinephrine (adrenaline) if possible.
How to prevent insect stings
The best way to avoid an allergic reaction to insect stings is to prevent them. The following tips can help reduce your risk of getting stung by bees, hornets and wasps:
- If you are drinking sweet beverages outside, be sure to check the drink and straw before drinking, as insects are attracted to the sugar.
- Close food containers and trash cans completely to discourage wasps and hornets, as they are attracted to protein-based foods and food scraps.
- Always wear closed-toe shoes when walking outside, especially in grassy areas, as bees like to nest in dry soil covered by thin grasses.
- Wear light-colored or neutral clothes instead of bright colors or bold, floral prints, which can attract bees.
- If you have a hive or nest near your home, do not try to remove it yourself. Contact a licensed professional.
- If you notice one or more bees flying around you, stay calm, cover your nose and mouth (bees are attracted to carbon dioxide released through respiration), and slowly walk away. Swatting at an insect may cause it to sting.
If you have a severe allergic reaction, or a known insect sting allergy, be sure to carry at least two prescription epinephrine injections at all times. Once you administer the shot, call 911 or go to the nearest urgent care facility for further medical care.
For immediate, expert care for allergic reactions visit Coastal Urgent Care of Ruston. We welcome walk-in appointments 7 days a week, Mon-Fri 8 a.m. – 7 p.m. and Sat-Sun 9 a.m. – 6 p.m.