Stinging Insect Allergies


Stings from honey bees, yellow and white-faced hornets, yellow jackets, wasps and fire ants can cause both local and systemic reactions. In general hornets and yellow jackets are more aggressive, but any of these insects will sting if provoked. Stings may occur at any time of the year. However, stings are more common in the summer and fall. Nearly everyone will have some swelling, redness and itching at the site of the sting. However, you may have a serious reaction to a sting and are allergic by skin testing and/or RAST (blood test) to one or more of the stinging insects. It is important to understand both how to treat stings as well as how to avoid exposure to stinging insects.

Avoiding stinging insects can be difficult if you enjoy the outdoors. Some things you may try to do could include:

Avoiding outdoor picnics and garbage cans

Wear drab or dark clothing. Insects are attracted by color

Avoid fragrances (perfume, hair spray, after shave, deodorant). Insects are attracted by fragrances

Wear long sleeves with cuffs buttoned and long pants tucked into socks

Wear shoes when outside

Do not disturb insect nests. Yellow jacket nests are typically in the ground, wasp nests in eaves, hornets in trees, eaves and shrubs. Have someone who is not allergic destroy/remove nests

Keep pressurized insect spray available in the event an individual is stung and has an allergy to stinging insects, the following must be done quickly:

Remain calm! It is important to be able to distinguish a true reaction from anxiety brought on by the fear of a reaction

Notify someone you have been stung and are allergic

Take an antihistamine right away (if Benadryl is taken, you may become drowsy)

Use your EpiPen, if you have any of the following symptoms: tightness in your throat, difficulty swallowing, difficulty breathing, systemic hives, feel faint (be sure it isn’t nerves), or sense that something terrible is happening. IF YOU USE YOUR EPIPEN, YOU MUST GO TO THE EMERGENCY ROOM OR AN URGENT CARE FACILITY.

Call 911 if you are alone or feel the need for emergency transport to the hospital

If you have an allergy to stinging insects, there is venom allergen immunotherapy (allergy injections) available. You would receive a gradually increasing amounts of venom(s) to which you are allergic. Once you have reached your maintenance level, you may still have a small local reaction if stung. However, you should be protected from a life threatening reaction to a sting. In general, you will need to remain on venom injections for 3-5 years before discontinuing injections can be discussed with your allergist.

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