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Allergen: Insect Stings

The insects that sting

Insects that are members of the Hymenoptera family most commonly cause allergic reactions. These include:

  • Bees

  • Wasps

  • Hornets

  • Yellow jackets

  • Fire ants

Allergic reactions to insect stings

The reactions are usually at the site of the sting, with redness, swelling, pain and itching. Generally, the reaction lasts only a few hours, although some may last longer.

For some people, allergic reactions to insect stings can be life-threatening. The reaction is called anaphylaxis and can include severe symptoms such as:

  • Itching and hives over most of the body

  • Swelling of the throat and tongue

  • Difficulty breathing and tightness in the chest

  • Dizziness

  • Headache

  • Stomach cramps, nausea, or diarrhea

  • Rapid fall in blood pressure

  • Shock

  • Loss of consciousness

Immediate medical attention is required.

Preventing stings

Preventive measures include:

  • Keep food covered when eating outdoors.

  • Be careful with open drink bottles, or cans. Insects can fly or crawl inside them.

  • Avoid perfumes, hair products, and deodorants.

  • Avoid wearing bright, flowered clothing. 

  • Avoid going barefoot, and wearing sandals in grassy areas.

  • When gardening, watch for nests in trees, shrubs, and flower beds.

  • Be careful near swimming pools, woodpiles, under eaves of houses, and trash containers.

Treatment for stings

Suggestions for treatment for highly allergic people include:

  • Immediately remove the stinger by scraping it with a fingernail. Do not squeeze the stinger, which may force the venom into the body.

  • Always carry epinephrine self-injections called Epi-pens. Make sure you and those close to you know how to use them.

  • With severe symptoms, get emergency treatment as soon as possible.

Talk with your health care provider  about getting an epinephrine self-injector if you don't already have one. Ask about whether you need immunotherapy or allergy shots.

Online Medical Reviewer: Holloway, Beth, RN, M.Ed.
Online Medical Reviewer: MMI board-certified, academically affiliated clinician
Last Review Date: 5/18/2014
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