When Insects Sting: How to Avoid Allergic Reactions

Stings-Wasp-FBIf you think Texas has it all, you’re right — including all five insects whose stings are known to cause allergic reactions: fire ants, honeybees, hornets, wasps and yellow jackets. Yay us.

It’s estimated that roughly 2 million Americans are allergic to the venom of stinging insects. According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI), it’s not uncommon to have a “normal” reaction the first few times and then experience increasingly severe reactions with each subsequent sting.

Types of reactions that can occur with insect stings:

  • A normal local reaction, which includes pain, swelling and redness at the sting site.
  • A large local reaction, which results in swelling that extends well beyond the sting site — such as a sting on your hand that causes your whole arm to swell. Swelling usually peaks several days after the sting and can last up to a week or more.
  • A systemic allergic reaction is a severe allergic reaction and requires immediate medical attention, such as calling 911 or going to the closest ER. Symptoms can include:
    • Hives
    • Itchy skin
    • Flushing
    • Swelling beyond the sting site
    • Dizziness or a sharp drop in blood pressure
    • Hoarseness, swelling of the tongue or difficulty swallowing
    • Abdominal pain, vomiting, intense nausea or diarrhea
    • Fainting or cardiac arrest
  • Anaphylaxis is a severe allergic reaction that occurs when the body releases an overdose of allergen-fighting chemicals, sending the body into shock. It’s life-threatening and can worsen quickly. Additional symptoms can include:
    • Breathing problems
    • Constricted throat
    • Rapid heart beat
    • Feeling of doom

People who have a known or suspected allergy to insect stings should carry at least one self-injectable epinephrine pen at all times; the ACAAI recommends two for those who have had a possible systemic reaction.

Gan Su, DO, an emergency medicine physician at Medical City Arlington, discusses signs that an allergic reaction should send you to the ER.

When the bee stings.

Texas Parks and Wildlife offers these tips for treating normal (mild) sting reactions:

  • Remove the stinger
  • Wash sting site with soap and water
  • Cover and keep clean
  • Apply cold pack for 15 to 20 minutes to reduce swelling
  • Administer over-the-counter pain relievers and cortisone/anti-itch cream
  • Mild allergic reactions can be treated with antihistamines (Benadryl)

It’s important to act fast if someone who may be allergic has been stung.

“Allergic reactions can come on suddenly and without much warning,” said Scott Corcoran, MD, an emergency medicine physician at Medical City McKinney. “Whether it’s from a bee sting, an ant bite, a peanut or even a strawberry, various things can cause allergic reactions that can be quite serious. Symptoms can include a rash, such as hives, nausea and vomiting, swelling of the eyes, mouth and throat and eventually, the airway closes off. If any of those symptoms are present, patients need to come to the ER right away.”

How to avoid stinging pests and their nests.

Follow the ACAAI’s helpful tips for avoiding insect stings:

Stings-Bee-FB

  • An open soda can is like bait to a flying stinger — keep sugary drinks covered or better yet, drink water!
  • Same goes for food — keep it covered
  • DO wear
    • Close-toed shoes when walking in grass or brush; this is where stinging insects forage
    • Long pants, long-sleeved shirts, socks and gloves for working outside
  • DO NOT wear
    • Sweet-smelling perfumes, hair products, deodorants, etc.
    • Bright-colored clothing or flowery patterns
  • Be extra cautious near bushes, eaves, trash cans, picnic areas and in attics
  • Call a professional exterminator to inspect for and remove pests and their nests

If someone in your family has an allergic reaction, one of our many Medical City ER locations across North Texas has you covered. With average wait times posted online, if you do have an emergency, you can spend less time waiting and more time on the moments that matter most.

Find a fast Medical City ER near you.

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