Allergic reactions to insect stings
are usually easy to diagnose. You will most likely feel the sting when it
occurs. In addition to knowing that your condition is an allergic reaction to
an insect sting, you will want to know which insect you are allergic to.
Most of the time, you will know
whether you have been stung by a bee, ant, mosquito, or other type of insect.
If not, inspect the surroundings in which you were stung. What types of insects
are active there? Are there nests or hives? Are there a lot of bees or ants
present? This might help you narrow down the possibilities.
The following information might help
Yellow jackets have yellow and black
stripes and are especially attracted to food. Their nests are made of a papier maché–like
substance. The nests are usually underground but may be found in the walls of buildings,
in cracks in masonry, or in woodpiles.
Honeybees and Bumblebees
Honeybees and bumblebees do not sting
unless provoked. Africanized honeybees (killer bees) are more aggressive and
may sting in swarms. In the US, killer bees were initially found in the southwestern
United States. However, over the past several years they have been reported in
both California and Florida. Honeybees live in honeycombs in hollow trees or
the cavities of buildings. Their hives can be massive. They may house tens of
thousands of bees and weigh hundreds of pounds. The honeybee has a barbed
stinger that usually stays in the victim.
Wasps are long and thin and have
droopy legs. Their small nests are made of a papery substance in a circular
comb of cells that opens downward. They build nests in attics, under eaves,
behind shutters, in mailboxes, under deck railings, or in most any small nook
Hornets are larger than yellow
jackets. They are able to sting you through your clothing. They build their
nests of a papery substance in the shape of a football. Their nests are
outdoors, usually in high places such as in the braches of trees or high in the
Fire ants look similar to ordinary
ants, but there are some differences. Fire ants are reddish brown on their head
and body, darker on the abdomen. They build nests in the ground that can be up
to 5 feet deep with a mound as much as 18 inches high and 15 inches in
diameter. They are very aggressive and will attack anything that disturbs their
If you believe you have had an
allergic reaction to a sting and do not know what insect caused it, your doctor
may suggest one or more of the following tests to determine the source of your
If there is any question about a
person’s sensitivity to a certain insect’s venom, allergy skin-prick testing
can be used to verify it. During a skin-prick test, the skin (usually on the
forearm, upper arm, or back) is pricked with the potential allergen and is then
monitored for a reaction, such as swelling or redness. Results can be seen
within 20 minutes. Testing is available for honeybee, paper wasp, yellow
jacket, yellow hornet, white-faced hornet, fire ant, harvester ant, and several
If the skin-prick test is
inconclusive, your doctor may suggest intradermal testing. In this method, a
small amount of the insect venom is injected just under the skin and the site
is monitored for a reaction.
If both skin tests are inconclusive,
your doctor may choose to do a blood test. A radioallergosorbent (RAST) test can measure your immune system’s
response to an insect’s venom by detecting the amount of IgE antibodies made in
response to any suspected venom proteins. In a RAST test, a sample of your
blood is added to the suspected venom and then tested for the amount of IgE
antibodies made in response.