Allergy Basics

Allergic Reactions to Insect Bites and Stings

If you've ever been the target of a bee or yellow jacket, you know there's often more to their sting than the initial pain. The body responds with swelling, redness at the site, and itching. Applying ice and a disinfectant, however, usually helps ease swelling and suffering.

For five percent of the population, though, an encounter with a stinger or a bite can be more than uncomfortable -- it can be life threatening because they're allergic to the insect's venom. Symptoms of an allergic reaction range from hives, itching, or swelling throughout the body to tightness and swelling of the throat, breathing difficulty, a sudden drop in blood pressure, dizziness, unconsciousness, and cardiac arrest. The reaction generally occurs within minutes of being stung.

If you're allergic (or suspect you're allergic) to stings or bites, be sure to let other people know and be prepared to self-inject epinephrine. Your doctor can provide you with an emergency injector to keep on hand.

Avoiding Bites and Stings

Avoiding yellow jackets, hornets, wasps, bees, and fire ants is better than treating yourself once you're stung or bitten. Here are some simple preventative measures:

  • Don't walk barefoot in the grass, which is a favorite nesting and resting ground for stinging insects.
  • Stay clear of nests or hives. You're viewed as a big, two-legged threat and will be attacked. Have a professional pest-removal company remove any nests in the vicinity.
  • Never place your hands in dark corners, into holes, or underneath objects without looking first.
  • Cover food when dining outdoors, and do not drink from an open soda can. Stinging insects love sweet soft drinks as much as you do and sometimes go inside while they're drinking. Always pour your drink into a clear container.
  • Wear long-sleeved shirts and pants to reduce skin exposure.
  • Don't dry your laundry outside. Flying, stinging insects might get caught in the laundry and be brought inside.
  • If a stinging, flying insect uses you as a landing pad, don't flail and scream. Remain calm and gently brush off the intruder, then quickly exit the scene.
  • Lastly, don't look like a flower. Save your bright, floral shirts for the indoors. And, since we're on the floral theme, avoid smelling like one, too. Perfumes, lotions, and hairspray smell sweet and attract stinging insects.

If you think you're allergic to insect venom stings, consult your doctor. Venom immunotherapy, in which gradual doses of venom are administered to stimulate the immune system to become resistant to future allergic reactions, may be an option. The immunotherapy can dramatically decrease your chance of anaphylaxis from 50 percent to less than 0.57 percent.Over the past few sections of this article, we've talked all about allergies and their sources, causes and solutions. The most important part of fighting allergies is compiling a good working knowledge of what you're battling against. Once you understand that an allergy is nothing but a reaction to an otherwise harmless substance, you can learn how to avoid your allergen or what to do if you should come in contact with it.

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