Experts estimate that 2 million Americans are allergic to insect stings, and many of these individuals are at risk of suffering life-threatening reactions to insect venom especially to Honey bee, Wasp, Yellow Jacket, Hornet and Fire Ants. Vaccine for these insects (Venom immunotherapy) is 98% successful and is a life saver in most venom sensitive patients.
Insect stings send more than 500,000 Americans to hospital emergency rooms every year, and cause at least 50 known deaths each year.
What are symptoms of insect sting allergy?
The most serious reaction to an insect sting is an allergic one. This condition 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
An even more severe allergic reaction, or anaphylaxis, can occur within minutes after the sting and may be life-threatening. Symptoms may include:
- Dizziness or a sharp drop in blood pressure
- Unconsciousness or cardiac arrest
- 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
Insect sting allergy is treated in a two-step approach:
- The first step is the emergency treatment of the symptoms of a serious reaction when they occur;
- The second step is preventive treatment of the underlying allergy with venom immunotherapy.
Life-threatening allergic reactions can progress very rapidly and require immediate medical attention. Emergency treatment usually includes administration of certain drugs, such as epinephrine, antihistamines, and in some cases, corticosteroids, intravenous fluids, oxygen and other treatments. Once stabilized, these patients sometimes require close observation in the hospital overnight.
Injectable epinephrine (EpiPen® or TwinJect®) 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.
What is venom immunotherapy?
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.
Venom immunotherapy involves administering gradually increasing doses of venom to decrease a patient's sensitivity to the venom. This can reduce the risk of a future allergic reaction to that of the general population. In a matter of weeks to months, people who previously lived under the constant threat of severe reactions to insect stings can return to leading normal lives.
Avoiding insect stings
Avoidance tactics are the first line of defense to insect stings. People with allergies to insect stings should:
- Avoid walking barefoot in the grass, where stinging insects forage.
- Avoid drinking from open soft drink cans, which stinging insects are attracted to and will crawl inside.
- Keep food covered when eating outdoors.
- Avoid sweet-smelling perfumes, hairsprays and deodorants.
- Avoid wearing bright colored clothing with flowery patterns.
Stinging insects such as bees, wasps, hornets and yellow jackets, are most active during late-summer and early-autumn when nest populations can exceed 60,000 insects. These insects occur throughout the United States. Another stinging insect, the fire ant, occurs year-round and infects more than 250 million acres in the southern states.