An insect sting allergy is when the venom in a bee, wasp, or other insect stinger causes an allergic reaction of mild, moderate, or severe seriousness. The most severe cases of insect sting allergy need immediate medical treatment, or the sting can be fatal. This kind of severe reaction is called anaphylactic [an-uh-fuh-LAK-tik] shock.
In other cases, even in people without a severe allergy, being stung many times can also cause you to get sick. This can be a medical emergency in people who problems with their heart or lungs.
If you have bee sting symptoms that aren’t going away after a few days, you should talk to a doctor.
Bees aren’t normally aggressive, and usually only sting you when they feel like they need to protect themselves. You can prevent bee stings by exercising caution around areas that have a high number of bees or wasps in them. Don’t make any sudden, jerky movements, and wear shoes when you’re outside.
The symptoms of an insect sting allergy depend on how severe your reaction to the sting is. Symptoms range from mild to moderate to severe.
Mild symptoms, which are the most common, include:
- A sharp burning pain where the insect’s stinger went into your skin
- A welt or bump at the area where you were stung
- A small amount of swelling that goes away quickly (within a few hours)
Moderate symptoms may include:
- A lot more redness and swelling than with a mild reaction
- Swelling that gets worse for several days
Generally, moderate reactions get better over a week. Having a moderate reaction doesn’t guarantee that you’ll have a more serious reaction next time a bee stings you. If your reactions keep getting worse every time you're stung, talk to a doctor.
Severe allergic reactions, also called anaphylaxis [an-uh-fuh-LAK-sis] can be fatal. Symptoms of a severe reaction can include:
- Having trouble breathing
- Passing out
- Rapid swelling of your throat or tongue
- Itchy skin
- Pale skin
- Chest pain
- Having trouble swallowing
Your chance to have another severe reaction goes up after you get it the first time.
Bee stings can typically be treated with home remedies. If you have a severe allergic reaction, you’ll need to get to a doctor quickly. After a severe reaction, you should ask your doctor about being referred to an allergist. If the reaction was due to a bee, was or hornet sting, skin or blood testing can be done. If the testing is positive, an allergist may recommend venom immunotherapy which can prevent against reactions from future stings.
Also seek medical attention if you have been attacked by a swarm of bees and stung multiple times, or if the symptoms of a bee sting don’t go away in a few days.
Insect sting allergies are diagnosed after a sting occurs, and the symptoms of a mild, moderate, or severe reaction occur.
If you’ve had an allergic reaction to a sting before, you’re more likely to have one the next time you’re stung, so allergy testing is important to diagnosis and come up with a treatment plan.
Treatment methods vary depending on the severity of allergic reaction.
Mild and moderate treatment at home should follow these steps:
- Remove the stinger using an object that has a straight edge, like a credit card. Tweezers should not be used because they can pinch the venom sac on the stinger and release more venom. (Wasps do not leave stingers after they sting.)
- Wash the sting with soap and water.
- Ice the sting for 10 minutes and then take the ice off for 10 minutes. Make sure the ice is wrapped in a towel and not pressed directly onto bare skin.
- Use creams to lessen itching.
- Keep an eye on the sting to make sure it doesn’t get infected.
For severe allergic reactions:
- Make sure the person who’s been stung is still breathing.
- Take off any rings or other things that might get tight because of swelling.
- Use the person’s sting kit if they have it with them. Some people who are aware of the danger of stings keep a kit with them in case of accidents. Sting kits include medicine that can stop the allergic reaction.
- Call 911 for medical help and wait with the person who’s been stung until help arrives.
- Follow-up with an allergist to determine if venom immunotherapy is needed.
The best way to prevent an insect sting allergy is to prevent insect stings. Some ways to keep safe include:
- Cover food and trash containers with tight lids so you don’t accidentally disturb an insect that lands in them.
- Be careful not to wear bright clothes that have flowers on them, as these can attract bees.
- Keep your windows up when you’re driving so insects can’t get in.
- Keep garbage and animal feces cleaned up. These things can attract flies and flies can attract wasps.
- Have a professional exterminator remove hives or nests in or near your home.
- Wear shoes that cover your whole foot when you walk outside.
- Use insect repellant.
- Get an emergency sting kit if you know you are at risk for a severe allergic reaction.