Insect bites and stings are a common occurrence for people living in Northeastern Pennsylvania. For the average person, an insect bite or sting is itchy or painful for a short time, then the discomfort and irritation go away. For someone with allergies, an insect bite or sting can be serious, possibly life-threatening.

Some insects cause a large local reaction, which is swelling that extends beyond the site of the bite or sting. Antihistamines or corticosteroids can help alleviate the discomfort; sometimes medical attention is necessary if the area is unusually large or painful.

Maybe you aren’t sure if you are allergic because fortunately, you’ve managed to avoid an insect bite or sting. Let’s look at five of the most common allergic reaction symptoms to insect bites for a quick reference.

The allergic reaction is caused by insect venom, which is injected into the person when the insect bites or stings.

What are the signs of allergic reactions to insects?

The signs of an allergic reaction can vary from person to person and depends on the type of insect bite or sting. The most common signs of allergic reactions include:

  •         Pain
  •         Redness or flushing
  •         Swelling at the site of bite or sting
  •         Hives
  •         Itching

Some severe reactions including abdominal cramping, tightness in the chest, or difficulty breathing may require medical attention. Anaphylaxis, a condition in which the person may experience dizziness or a sharp drop in blood pressure or worse, a loss of consciousness or cardiac arrest, is a potentially life-threatening reaction to an insect bite or sting. If this occurs, call 911 to get emergency medical help for the person immediately.

What insects cause allergic reactions?

Stinging insects like honeybees, hornets, wasps, yellow jackets and fire ants commonly cause allergic reactions. Biting insects like mosquitos have also been known to trigger severe allergic reactions such as hives, blisters, vomiting, or difficulty breathing.

Some insects, particularly fire ants, yellow jackets, hornets, and wasps, can sting repeatedly. The sting of a fire ant causes an itchy, localized hive or lump at the sting site for just about everyone. Those who are allergic may experience more severe symptoms.

The allergic reaction is caused by insect venom, which is injected into the person when the insect bites or stings.

The signs of an allergic reaction can vary from person to person and depends on the type of insect bite or sting.

What can you do for an allergic reaction?

If you know you are allergic, preventing a reaction is your best defense. When spending time outside, try to avoid contact with insects. Wear long-sleeved tops, long pants, and high socks if you will be outside for extended periods. Keep as much of your body covered as you can to deter insects from biting or stinging you. Use insect repellent on exposed areas for additional protection.

Another option for those with severe allergies is to always carry an epi-pen pre-loaded with a dosage of epinephrine (adrenaline). If you are severely allergic and encounter a potentially dangerous insect, you need to act quickly to neutralize the bite or sting. Epinephrine works effectively on the whole body to treat anaphylaxis and is the most recommended medication to treat allergic reactions. Your allergist prescribes the epi-pen and will work with you to determine how and when to use it in the event of an allergic reaction.

A third option is allergy shots or immunotherapy. For this treatment, the person has a slight amount of the allergen injected into their skin. Shots are given at least once a week for several months, then there is gradually more time between injections (usually two to four weeks). A person receiving immunotherapy will do this for three to five years to sufficiently build up their immunity to the allergen.

Why are some people allergic to insects?

Some people have a temporary reaction to an insect bite or sting, but their pain or discomfort passes in a day or two. The difference between people who have temporary reactions to insect bites or stings and those with insect sting allergies comes down to the differences in their bodies—namely, the immune system.

When your body encounters an insect by way of a bite or sting, the body releases something called histamines at the contact site. The greater the amount of histamines released for say, a mosquito bite, the stronger the response (as in, the site will become itchier). Some people have a stronger reaction to one type of insect more than another. Other people have little to no reaction, and still, others have strong to severe allergic reactions. It really depends on each person’s body chemistry and how they respond to foreign bodies.

You can be tested to determine whether you are allergic to various insect bites or stings. When you receive the test results, you can discuss the most effective next steps to protect yourself against future encounters with insects.



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