Insect Venom Allergy

There are many different kinds of insects that can cause an allergic reaction:

Stinging Insects

like bees, wasps, hornets, yellow-jackets and fire ants are the most. These insects, they inject a toxic substance called venom. Most people stung by these insects recover within hours or days. In others, this venom can trigger a life-threatening allergic reaction (Anaphylaxis).

Fire ants are a stinging insect typically found in the South/Southeast areas of the United States. For people with fire ant allergy, stings may cause a life-threatening anaphylactic reaction. Due to the potential of a severe reaction, a proper diagnosis for fire ant allergy is important to being prepared for an emergency.

Fire ants build nests of dirt in the ground, often on the edges of sidewalks or roads. Fire ants bite with their jaws while they sting. This allows them to pull the stinger out, rotate and sting again. A single ant can inflict several stings in a matter of moments. The venom in a fire ant sting will lead to a blister that fills with a white material in about 24 hours. While this looks like a pus-filled lesion that should be drained, it is really sterile, and will heal quickest if left alone.

Biting Insects

like mosquitoes, kissing bugs, bedbugs, fleas and some others. Most people bitten by insects suffer pain, redness, itching, stinging and minor swelling in the area around the bite.

Interestingly one kind of ticks, the Lone Star tick can cause people to develop an allergy to meat. If you have allergy symptoms after eating meat, see an allergist.

Household Pests

House dust mites and cockroaches can also cause allergic reactions. These two may be the most common cause of year-round allergy and asthma. The cockroach and dust mite’s waste and body cause allergic reactions, unlike a cockroach, a dust mite is too small to see with the naked eye.

Symptoms

Most people stung or bitten by insects suffer pain, redness, itching and minor swelling in the area around the bite or sting. This is a normal reaction. Most people get better within hours or days. Some are actually allergic to insect stings and their immune systems overreact to the venom. If you are insect-allergic, after the first sting, your body produces antibodies called Immunoglobulin E (IgE). If stung again by the same kind of insect, the venom interacts with this specific IgE antibody and causes an allergic reaction. People can have a serious allergic reaction to stinging or biting insects. Some symptoms include:

  • Skin rashes, itching or hives
  • Shortness of breath, trouble breathing or wheezing
  • Dizziness and/or fainting
  • Stomach pain, vomiting, diarrhea
  • Swelling of the lips, tongue or throat

Treatment

If the insect left its stinger in the skin,

  • remove the stinger as soon as you can, as it takes only seconds for all of the venom to enter your body. Get the stinger out any way you can, such as with your fingernails or a tweezer.
  • apply cold compresses or ice to relieve pain and ease swelling.

If the swelling and itching is associated with a large local reaction you can add

  • hydrocortisone cream to ease redness, itching or swelling.
  • take an oral antihistamine
  • avoid scratching the sting area. This will worsen itching and swelling and increase your risk of infection.

If you are severely insect-allergic, carry auto-injectable adrenaline/epinephrine. It is a rescue medication only, and you must still have someone take you to an emergency room immediately if you are stung.

Bee and other insect stings are a common cause of anaphylaxis. If you’ve had a serious reaction to an insect sting, insect venom allergy immunotherapy is very effective. These allergy shots, generally given regularly for a few years, can reduce or eliminate your allergic response to bee venom.

Prevention

These insects are most likely to sting if their homes are disturbed, so it is important to stay away.

  • Be careful outdoors when cooking, eating or drinking sweet drinks like soda or juice.
  • Beware of insects inside straws or canned drinks.
  • The smell of food attracts insects, keep food covered until eaten.
  • Clear away garbage, fallen fruit.
  • Cover food containers and trash cans.
  • Avoid going barefoot.
  • Wear close-toed shoes when walking outside.
  • Don’t wear bright colors or floral prints, which can attract bees.
  • If flying stinging insects are close by, do not fight with your hands, (swatting at an insect may cause it to sting) stay calm and move away.