Stinging Insect Allergy

Did you know severe stinging insect allergies affect over 9.5 million Americans? If you struggle with severe allergic symptoms to insect stings and bites, you are not alone. While a stinging insect allergy can potentially be life-threatening, venom immunotherapy can be up to 95-98% effective in preventing such reactions. In fact, this has been known to be a lifesaving therapy. 

Allergy Partners provides comprehensive testing and management plans for individuals who are at risk of severe reactions when exposed to insects such as bees, wasps, hornets, and yellow jackets. Through education about the symptoms and risk factors of stinging insect allergies, we help you manage your condition safely and confidently.


There are three types of reactions to stinging insects – local, large local, and systemic (whole body). Most reactions are local with redness, swelling, itching and pain in the sting area. Sometimes they can become large with extensive red swelling surrounding the sting site and increase in size for 24 to 48 hours. On occasion, some people develop delayed large local reactions. These reactions may be causing swelling that extends across two joints, for example from the hand to the elbow, and may last up to 5-10 days. These types of reactions may look worrisome with the amount of swelling and redness but are self-limited and are treated symptomatically. 

In some cases, a sting can trigger a whole-body systemic reaction called anaphylaxis. In these reactions, the immune system has become sensitized to the particular insect venom and, when the person is stung, releases substances like histamine that can cause swelling, itching, hives, and difficulty breathing. Anaphylaxis may affect the skin (hives, angioedema, flushing, itching), the respiratory system (coughing, wheezing, stridor, shortness of breath), the circulatory system (dizziness, hypertension, loss of consciousness), and the GI tract (cramps, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting). The absence of skin symptoms is associated with more severe reactions. If you notice any of these signs of anaphylaxis, seek medical help immediately as anaphylaxis can be life-threatening. Having a history of local or large local reactions does not significantly increase a person's risk of having a more severe anaphylactic reaction to stinging insects. Indeed, a previous reaction history is the best determinate of future reactions.


For those who have had a severe allergic reaction to a stinging insect, allergy testing is needed to pinpoint to which venoms they are allergic. Testing typically involves a series of skin tests with very small quantities of purified venom from common stinging insects. A positive test causes a small hive to develop at the site. In certain cases, additional blood work may be recommended. 

Four Steps to Relief

  1. Planning Your First Visit

    Schedule an appointment at your local office and fill out our pre-registration and medical history forms to help minimize any wait time when you arrive.

  2. Your First Visit

    Your initial visit will consist of a consultation, review of your medical history and a comprehensive exam to build a treatment plan tailored to your unique needs.

  3. Diagnostics and Testing

    We may complete one or more tests to better understand the cause of your symptoms. Common tests include skin testing, pulmonary testing, and blood testing.

  4. Treatment

    Following the evaluation and testing, we’ll provide a comprehensive diagnosis and implement a personalized treatment plan that will deliver relief.


Local reactions are typically treated with ice, pain management, and antihistamines. Early use of steroids within the first hours after a sting can also be helpful, especially to stings around the face, head, and neck. In these instances, your allergist may recommend a short burst of oral corticosteroid over the course of a few days to a week. 

All people with a history of anaphylaxis from venom allergy should always carry injectable epinephrine as this medication can reverse the symptoms of anaphylaxis. However, epinephrine is not enough. All venom-allergic people should be desensitized though immunotherapy. Venom immunotherapy (VIT) uses purified bee venom or fire ant extract. Through a series of injections, immunotherapy helps the immune system build a tolerance to the venom and reduces the risk of future reactions by up to 98%. 

Venom immunotherapy has 2 phases: Build-up and Maintenance. In the Build-up Phase, you will initially receive a very small dose of venom. With each injection, the dosage is increased to provide increasing protection. In the Maintenance Phase, you will receive the top, or maintenance, dose of immunotherapy once a month. The Maintenance Phase is 5 years in duration to ensure lasting protection. In some cases, your Allergy Partners physician may recommend a longer course of immunotherapy.

The Allergy Partners Difference

At Allergy Partners, our highly trained team takes a multidisciplinary approach to treating stinging insect allergies. We prioritize patient education, so you can fully understand your condition and take steps to prevent potentially life-threatening reactions. If you or a loved one struggles with a stinging insect allergy and severe allergic reactions, please consult with one of our allergists. 

Continue ReadingRead Less

Ready to Find Relief?