When you are stung by an insect, poisons and other toxins enter your skin. It's normal to have some swelling, redness, pain, and itching around the sting. But you may have an allergic reaction if your immune system reacts strongly to allergens in the sting.
You probably won't have a severe allergic reaction the first time you are stung. But even if your first reaction to a sting is mild, allergic reactions can get worse with each sting. Your next reaction may be more severe or even deadly.
An allergic reaction occurs when your immune system reacts strongly to the allergens in the sting.
A few types of stinging insects cause most allergic reactions. They are:
Symptoms of an allergic reaction can range from mild to severe.
Mild reactions may cause:
Large, local reactions may cause the same symptoms as mild reactions, plus:
A large local reaction can take up to 10 days to go away.1
Severe reactions may cause:
Your doctor may do a physical exam and ask you questions about your symptoms and past health. He or she also may want you to have allergy tests after you get better from the allergic reaction. Allergy tests, such as skin prick tests or blood tests, can help you find out which types of insect stings you are most allergic to.
If you or your child has severe reactions, your doctor may prescribe an epinephrine shot that you keep with you or your child at all times. Teach others, such as teachers, friends, or coworkers, what to do if you're stung and how to give the shot. Also, be sure to wear a medical alert bracelet or other jewelry that lists your allergies. During an emergency, these can save your life.
You may also want to try allergy shots, called immunotherapy, to help prevent worse allergic reactions in the future.
To reduce your chances of being stung:
If you are stung, stay as calm and quiet as you can. Then move away from the insect and leave the area, because the nest may be close by.
Remove the stinger from your skin. It may be best to scrape or flick the stinger off your skin—squeezing or gripping the stinger to pull it out may inject more venom into your wound. If you were stung in your arm or leg, lower it to slow the spread of venom. Then treat the insect sting based on the type of reaction you have.
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Learning about allergies to insect stings:
- Golden DB, et al. (2011). Stinging insect hypersensitivity: A practice parameter update 2011. Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, 127(4): 852–854.e23.
Other Works Consulted
- Golden DBK (2011). Allergic reactions to hymenoptera. In EG Nabel, ed., ACP Medicine, section 6, chap. 15. Hamilton, ON: BC Decker.
- House H (2006). Insect bites and stings. In MR Dambro, ed., Griffith's 5-Minute Clinical Consult, pp. 590–591. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins.
- Reisman RE (2007). Insect sting allergy. In P Lieberman, JA Anderson, eds., Allergic Diseases Diagnosis and Treatment, 3rd ed., vol. 1, pp. 71–81. Totowa, NJ: Humana Press.
- Schwartz LB (2012). Systemic anaphylaxis, food allergy, and insect sting allergy. In L Goldman, A Shafer, eds., Goldman's Cecil Medicine, 24th ed., vol. 3, pp. 1633–1638. Philadelphia: Saunders.
- Bernstein IL, et al. (2008). Allergy diagnostic testing: An updated practice parameter. Annals of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology, 100(3, Suppl 3): S1–S148.
- Tankersley MS (2008). The stinging impact of the imported fire ant. Current Opinion in Allergy and Clinical Immunology, 8(4): 354–359.
Primary Medical Reviewer E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Rohit K Katial, MD - Allergy and Immunology
Current as ofMarch 12, 2014
Current as of: March 12, 2014
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