How to Manage Your Insect Sting Allergy

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insect sting allergy

An insect sting allergy is an allergic reaction to stings from bees, hornets, wasps, and yellow jackets. Most people have some kind of reaction to insect stings including redness and a mild bump or swelling around the sting site. However, this does not mean that they are allergic. A real insect sting allergy involves more severe symptoms. You could experience a large local reaction or systemic reaction. 

A local reaction causes intense swelling that extends beyond the sting site. A person may experience swelling and discomfort of the entire leg or arm. Local reactions may last 48 hours or more. In contrast, systemic reactions can affect the entire body. In severe cases, anaphylaxis may occur. That’s why it’s essential to learn how to manage your insect sting allergy.

Symptoms of Insect Sting Allergy

There are mild and severe symptoms of an insect sting allergy. Mild symptoms are ones that cause swelling and itching around the sting site. More severe symptoms include:

  • Trouble breathing
  • Hives that appear as a red, itchy rash and spread to areas beyond the sting
  • Swelling of the face, throat, or any part of the mouth or tongue
  • Wheezing or trouble swallowing
  • Restlessness and anxiety
  • Rapid pulse
  • Dizziness or a sharp drop in blood pressure

If you experience these symptoms after getting stung by an insect, seek medical treatment immediately, especially if you have trouble breathing. It is important to go immediately because your symptoms may worsen if untreated, potentially leading to a bad outcome, including death. While many local insect sting reactions resolve on their own, some symptoms can become more severe. Be sure to follow your allergy action plan from our allergists to treat your symptoms. 

Treating Mild Reactions to Insect Stings

With mild reactions to insect stings, you can usually treat them at home. First, wash the stung area with soap and water, and then apply an antiseptic to reduce the possibility of infection. It may be helpful to apply a soothing ointment, like hydrocortisone cream or calamine lotion to treat mild itching. We also recommend antihistamines to ease itching, swelling, and hives. Consult with one of our allergy specialists to determine which treatments will best soothe your symptoms.

Preventing A Serious Allergic Reaction to Insect Stings

For patients with severe allergies to insect stings, it is important to consider venom immunotherapy. Venom immunotherapy is a treatment that desensitizes you to insect venom. To treat allergies, very small amounts of the venom of the insect or insects are injected under the skin. The treatment is for three to five years so that any future insect stings will not cause as severe of a reaction. Venom immunotherapy is available to treat allergies to stings from:

  • Honeybees
  • Yellowjackets
  • Hornets
  • Paper wasps
  • Fire ants

However, allergic individuals should still avoid contact with stinging insects. You should also carry epinephrine in case a severe allergic reaction occurs. Delaying epinephrine in the event of an insect sting to an insect you are allergic to can lead to a more severe reaction, possibly leading to death. 

To begin venom immunotherapy, contact NY Allergy & Sinus Centers at (212) 686-4448 or book an appointment online. Our allergists are here to help you manage your insect sting allergy.

Meet the Physician Collaborator

Dr. Morris Nejat is the medical director of the NY Allergy and Sinus Centers and specializes in hay fever, asthma, sinusitis, and food allergies. You can schedule an appointment with Dr. Nejat or one of our other allergists by calling 212-686-6321 or book an appointment online through our website. The NY Allergy and Sinus Centers has 6 convenient locations in Manhattan and Queens.