Heat, humidity, high pollen counts. If that's not enough to send an allergy sufferer running for the indoors in the summer, then here's one thing that may: stinging insects.
Stinging insects - bees, hornets, yellow jackets, and wasps - are most plentiful in late July, August, and early September. These insects send more than half a million people each year to hospital emergency rooms and cause at least 50 deaths.
Symptoms of an allergic reaction to insect stings include:
- Swelling at the sting site and sometimes of the surrounding area
More serious symptoms include:
- Trouble breathing
- Hoarse voice
- Swelling of the tongue
In severe reactions, the person may develop allergic shock (anaphylaxis) and can lose consciousness or have cardiac arrest.
Two million Americans are allergic to insect venom. For many, all it takes is one sting.
If you get stung and have any symptoms of an allergic reaction, call 9-1-1 to get emergency help at once.
Once you've had an allergic reaction to an insect sting, it's important to see an allergist. There's a good chance you'll have another similar or worse reaction if you're stung again. People do not usually "outgrow" allergic reactions to insect stings.
Allergic reactions need prompt medical attention. People who have had an anaphylactic reaction should never be without an emergency kit containing epinephrine (adrenaline). And they still need to call 9-1-1 because evaluation in an emergency room is always needed.
Preventing allergic reactions
People with insect venom allergies don't have to live in fear part of each year. Allergy shots may be able to protect people with allergies from potentially life-threatening reactions to insect stings. These shots introduce tiny purified extracts of insect venom.
Your allergist can prescribe an epinephrine kit and teach you how to give yourself the shot. Ask your doctor if you're a candidate for allergy shots, also known as immunotherapy, that desensitize you to insect stings. Allergy shots are safe and effective for most people.
Just because you're allergic to stings doesn't always mean you have to avoid the great outdoors entirely. There are ways to minimize your chances of being stung.
Avoiding the sting
Don't look, smell, or act like a flower. Bees are attracted to flowers, and they'll be attracted to you if you dress in bright colors and floral prints, wear strong perfumes, and walk barefoot in the grass among the clover that bees love.
Other tips include:
- Keep food covered when you eat outdoors.
- Don't drink soft drinks from cans. Stinging insects are attracted to the sweetness and may crawl inside the can.
If you have a child who is allergic, make sure teachers, camp counselors, and other adult supervisors know and that the child has an emergency epinephrine kit. Make sure anyone involved in your child's care knows how to use it, too.
First aid for a bee sting
Remove the stinger as quickly as possible. Do not pull the stinger out with your fingers or tweezers. Instead, scrape the stinger out with the edge of a credit card, ruler, or butter knife. And don't scratch the site.
For mild reactions, a cold compress can help soothe the itchiness and ease the swelling.
Created on 08/03/2000
Updated on 07/15/2011
- U.S. Department of Agriculture. Stung by a bee: what do I do?
- American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. Insect sting allergy.
- University of California Integrated Pest Management Program. Bee and wasp stings.
- Golden D, Kagey-Sobotka A, Norman P, Hamilton RG, Lichtenstein LM. Outcomes of allergy to insect stings in children, with and without venom immunotherapy. New England Journal of Medicine. 2004;351:668-674.