Insect bites or stings are common but most people are not allergic to insect stings. Recognizing the difference between an allergic reaction and a normal reaction will reduce anxiety and prevent unnecessary medical expense. Most insect stings are caused from wasps, yellow jackets, hornets, bees, and the red or black imported fire ant.
The severity of an insect sting reaction varies from person to person. A normal reaction will result in pain, swelling, itchiness and redness confined to the sting site. Simply disinfect the area (washing with soap and water will do) and apply ice to reduce the swelling. A large local reaction will result in swelling that extends beyond the sting site or unusually painful and may need medical attention.
The most serious reaction to an insect sting is an allergic reaction, which requires immediate medical attention. Symptoms of an allergic reaction may include one or more of the following: hives, itching and swelling in areas other than the sting site; abdominal cramping, vomiting, intense nausea or diarrhea, tightness in the chest and difficulty in breathing, hoarse voice or swelling of the tongue or throat, or difficulty swallowing and anaphylaxis. People who have experienced an allergic reaction to an insect sting have a 60 percent chance of a similar or worse reaction if stung again.
Life-threatening allergic reactions can progress very rapidly and require immediate medical attention. If one begins, call 911. Injectable epinephrine (EpiPen / Twin-Ject) for self-administration is often prescribed as emergency rescue medication for treating an allergic reaction. People who have had previous allergic reactions and rely on epinephrine must remember to carry it with them at all times. Also, because one dose may not be enough to reverse the reaction, immediate medical attention following an insect sting is recommended.
The long-term treatment of insect sting allergy is called venom immunotherapy, a highly effective program administered by an allergist-immunologist, which can prevent future allergic reactions to insect stings.