Symptoms of an Insect Allergy

Sep 06, 2022
Symptoms of an Insect Allergy
You got stung by a bee, hornet, wasp, or fire ant. You expect a little bump, and maybe some pain and itching. But then your “bump” grows and your skin swells. Are you allergic to insect stings? Here’s how to tell.

Insects such as bees, wasps, and hornets inject venom into the skin of predators, even though doing so often ends their own, individual lives. While most people find an insect sting painful, the discomfort usually resolves on its own within a few minutes to hours with minimal treatment.

However, some women, men, and children are allergic to the venom of stinging insects. Instead of a small raised bump or welt, they may develop other, more severe symptoms, some of which are life-threatening. 

At the Allergy and Asthma Institute in Duluth, Georgia, expert allergist Lakshmi Reddy, MD and our team diagnose and treat insect allergies. If you have an allergic reaction to an insect sting, don’t delay treatment: Your life may depend on it.

Avoid stinging insects

Whenever possible, avoid insects that sting with venom. Although bees can only sting once, yellow jackets sting multiple times as well as signal their swarm to join the attack. Avoid:

  • Honeybees
  • Bumblebees
  • Yellow jackets
  • Paper wasps
  • Hornets
  • Fire ants

Most of the time, an insect only stings you if you accidentally step on them, swat them, disturb their nests, or if they’re trapped in your clothing. Some types of Africanized honeybees, however, attack in swarms. 

Getting stung by multiple insects — such as when disturbing a wasp nest — can cause severe reactions. Go immediately to the emergency room.

Non-allergic sting symptoms

Almost everyone has some sort of reaction after they’ve been stung by an insect. A normal reaction to an insect sting includes symptoms such as:

  • Pain
  • Swelling
  • Redness
  • Small welt or bump
  • Slight itchiness

Scrape off the stinger as quickly and gently as you can: Don’t pull the stinger. Don’t press or pull on the venom sac, either, which would release more venom into your wound. Wash the sting with soap and water, then apply an antiseptic.

Soothe the itch by applying hydrocortisone cream or calamine lotion, followed by a bandage. If you’re swollen or in pain, applying an ice pack can help. Adults, except for pregnant women, and children who are more than two years old may take an antihistamine to control itching. 

Allergic sting symptoms

Some of the symptoms of an allergic sting are the same as those of a non-allergic sting, such as pain and redness. However, you may also notice:

  • Spots that look like pimples
  • Mild to moderate swelling
  • Warmth on sting site
  • Itching on or around sting site

Sometimes, intense swelling near the sting site isn’t an allergic reaction, it’s just a severe normal reaction. However, it’s best to know and not guess. Let us look at your sting and test you for allergies. 

Severe allergic sting symptoms

A severe allergic response is a life-threatening condition called anaphylaxis. Luckily, anaphylaxis is rare. Go straight to the emergency room if you or anyone with you experiences:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Wheezing
  • Trouble swallowing
  • Hives that spread beyond the sting
  • Swelling in face, throat, mouth, or tongue
  • Anxiety and restlessness
  • Rapid pulse
  • Drop in blood pressure
  • Dizziness
  • Stomach cramps
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea

Once you’ve experienced symptoms like the above, you must carry an epinephrine pen with you wherever you go and use it as soon as you’ve been stung to prevent a reaction. 

Retrain your immune system

In addition to carrying an epinephrine pen, if you’re allergic to stinging insects you could benefit from a type of treatment called venom immunotherapy. We gradually desensitize your immune system to the venom you’re allergic to by giving you small, increasing doses. That way, you’re less likely to have a severe reaction if you’re ever stung.

Get the specialized medical care you need for stinging insect allergic reactions by contacting us today. Phone our helpful team at 678-615-7878, or book an allergy test or treatment with our online appointment form.