If you get stung by a bee, wasp, yellow jacket, hornet, or fire ant, would you know if you had an allergic reaction?
Those are the insect stings that most often trigger allergies. Most people aren’t allergic. By knowing the difference, you can decide if you need to see a doctor.
3 Types of Reactions
- A normal reaction sets off pain, swelling, and redness around the sting site.
- A large local reaction causes swelling that extends beyond the sting site. For example, a person stung on the ankle may have swelling of the entire leg. While it often looks alarming, it’s usually no more serious than a normal reaction. Large local reactions peak at about 48 hours and then gradually get better over 5 to 10 days.
- The most serious reaction is an allergic one (described below). You’ll need to get it treated right away.
What Are the Symptoms of an Insect Sting Allergy?
- Pimple-like spots
- Mild to moderate swelling
Severe allergic reactions (also called an anaphylactic reaction) are not that common. But when they happen, they’re emergencies.
Symptoms can include:
- Trouble breathing
- Hives that appear as a red, itchy rash and spread to areas beyond the sting
- Swelling of the face, throat, or any part of the mouth or tongue
- Wheezing or trouble swallowing
- Restlessness and anxiety
- Rapid pulse
- Dizziness or a sharp drop in blood pressure
Get emergency treatment as soon as possible.
Apply a soothing ointment, like a hydrocortisone cream or calamine lotion, and cover the area with a dry, sterile bandage.
If swelling is a problem, apply an ice pack or cold compress to the area.
Take an over-the-counter oral antihistamine to ease itching, swelling, and hives. Don’t give this medication to children under 2 years old or to pregnant women unless your doctor says it’s OK. (If you’re pregnant, it’s best to talk to your doctor before you take any medicine.)
Read the label on any medicines first. Parents of children and people with medical conditions should talk with a pharmacist if they have questions about a medicine’s use.
Treatment if You’re Allergic
You’ll still need emergency medical care, even if the symptoms seem to stop. You may need to stay overnight at the hospital. If you’ve ever had allergic reactions to an insect sting, carry epinephrine with you wherever you go.
If stung by a bee, the bee usually leaves a sac of venom and a stinger in your skin. Remove the stinger within 30 seconds to avoid receiving more venom. Gently scrape the sac and stinger out with a fingernail or a stiff-edged object like a credit card. Don’t squeeze the sac or pull on the stinger, or more venom will get into you.
1. Learn to recognize insect nests and avoid them. Yellow jackets nest in the ground in dirt mounds or old logs and walls. Honeybees camp out in beehives. Hornets and wasps make their homes in bushes, trees, and on buildings.
2. Wear shoes and socks when outdoors.
3. Wear long-sleeved shirts, long pants, socks, and shoes when in rural or wooded areas.
4. Avoid wearing perfumes or brightly colored clothing. They tend to attract insects.
5. If you have severe allergies, make sure you have someone with you if you hike, boat, swim, golf, or do other things outdoors, just in case.
7. Spray garbage cans regularly with insecticide, and keep the cans covered.
8. Avoid or remove insect-attracting plants and vines growing in and around the home.