With the warmer weather of summer, we are enjoying more time outside. Along with the summer weather comes a dramatic rise in the number of stings from bees and fire ants. For many people these stings are painful and annoying but not dangerous. However, approximately 1 in 100 people has a potentially life-threatening allergy to insect stings. The insects most often responsible for serious allergic reactions are honey bees, wasps, hornets, yellow jackets, and fire ants. Although intimidating by virtue of their size, bumble bees rarely sting.
An allergic reaction can involve the entire body and advance rapidly after the sting. Common symptoms include itching, hives and swelling distant from the site of the sting. Dizziness, asthma symptoms, nausea, vomiting and a drop in blood pressure, shock and unconsciousness may also occur. Severe reactions may be fatal if medical treatment is not obtained immediately.
Once an individual has experienced a severe reaction, they have a 60-70% chance of experiencing a similar or more severe reaction with each future sting. Therefore, anyone who has experienced any of the above symptoms following a sting should carry an EpiPen at all times. However, with insect venom allergy, epinephrine is not enough. Using an EpiPen is critical for treating a severe reaction. However, it cannot prevent future reactions. Anyone with an allergic reaction to a sting should be evaluated by an allergist for testing and consideration of immunotherapy. Allergy shots to stinging insect venom are 98% effective in preventing future stings and are the standard of care treatment for venom allergy.
Stinging insect allergy is potentially fatal. Fortunately, current treatment is very safe and highly effective. Allergy shots to venom can be life-saving. Don’t let the fear of stings keep you indoors this summer. If you have a history of reactions to stings, see us for an evaluation.