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Many people who get stung by an insect have a minor reaction that may include some redness, swelling, or itching at the site of the sting. However, for some people, an insect sting can cause a mild or severe allergic reaction. About 2 million Americans are allergic to the venom of stinging insects, such as bees, wasps, yellow jackets, hornets, and fire ants. Most allergic reactions to insect stings are mild, with local symptoms. However, for some individuals, an insect sting can produce a more serious reaction called anaphylaxis. 

Symptoms

Symptoms of an insect sting may include:

  • Pain
  • Redness
  • Mild to moderate swelling (in area of sting and sometimes beyond)
  • Warmth at the sting site
  • Hives
  • Itching 
  • Anaphylaxis (less common), a potentially life-threatening reaction that may impair breathing and can cause the body to go into shock

Causes

The immune system responds to unfamiliar substances with cells that can detect the specific invader. Antibodies allow the immune system to recognize unfamiliar substances and play a role in getting rid of them. When a person comes into contact with an allergen, the antibody immunoglobulin E (IgE) is produced and travels to cells that release histamine and other inflammatory chemicals that cause allergy symptoms.

Treatment

In most cases, treatment aims to relieve symptoms, such as pain, redness, swelling, and itching. If the person has a mild allergic reaction, they can often treat the symptoms themself with antihistamines and try to reduce exposure to the allergen that triggers their symptoms. If a person has a severe allergic sting reaction, they will need epinephrine (Epi-pen) and emergency care.

If a person has had a severe allergic reaction from an insect sting, they may want to talk to a doctor about treatment that can help prevent it from happening again. Immunotherapy (allergy shots) for insect stings works by putting a tiny amount of the allergen (insect venom) into the body over time. The body will get used to the allergen, and if the individual gets stung again, the goal is a far less serious reaction, if any. 

 Many allergy related symptoms can be managed with over the counter medicines, prescription medications, and environmental avoidance strategies if the allergies are known. With insect allergy testing, we can discover hidden triggers, confirm suspected triggers, and provide additional treatments, including immunotherapy if appropriate. 

Contact Northeast Allergy, Asthma & Immunology today to schedule your appointment.

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