How to Deal with Insect Allergies

Insect Allergies: Diagnosis and Treatment

Summer has officially begun, and with it higher temperatures as well as, unfortunately, insects.  As you and your friends and family enjoy the outdoors more often, keep in mind that an insect sting is a very real possibility. Unfortunately, distinguishing between the normal pain of the sting and an allergic reaction is not always easy. It’s a good idea to prepare yourself with symptoms and treatment options to look out for.

Symptoms and Insects to Look Out For

In most cases, an insect sting will cause pain, swelling, and redness around the affected area.  More severe cases will spread beyond the vicinity of the sting. For example, the affected area could grow to cover your entire arm or even other parts of your body unrelated to the area. There are two main forms of reaction:

  • A normal, local reaction causes pain, swelling, and redness around the sting site (and nowhere else).
  • A large local reaction causes swelling outside of the sting. If the symptoms of the sting spread to a more significant portion of your body, the condition may reach its worst point two or three days following the sting and last for at least a week after that point.

An allergic reaction to a sting may occur even though your body has never reacted to a sting before. In rare cases, allergic reactions can become life-threatening.

Insects to look out for in the United States include wasps, yellow jackets, hornets, and bees. Red and black fire ants are also becoming more and more common in North America.

The main symptoms to look out for are:

  • Hives
  • Pain
  • Redness
  • Swelling in the area of the sting, and possibly away from the sting
  • Flushing/severe blushing
  • Itching around or away from the sting
  • Abdominal cramping, vomiting, intense nausea or diarrhea
  • Anaphylaxis

Anaphylaxis is a life-threatening condition causing symptoms like rashes, hives, a swollen throat, wheezing, chest tightness, and passing out, among other severe physical reactions. Anaphylaxis may occur mere minutes following a sting, and may send the body into shock. This condition requires immediate medical attention with an epinephrine (adrenaline) auto-injector.

A systemic allergic reaction occurs when an allergic reaction spreads from the initial affected organ to another organ system (e.g. from your skin to your respiratory or circulatory system). Look out for the following symptoms:

  • Flushing/severe blushing
  • Dizziness or sharp drop in blood pressure
  • Hoarse voice, swelling of the tongue, difficulty swallowing
  • Hives, itching, and swelling beyond the sting
  • Abdominal cramping, vomiting, intense nausea or diarrhea
  • Unconsciousness or cardiac arrest

If you have experienced a systemic allergic reaction, you will likely have another systemic reaction if you are stung again.


The best way to protect yourself is to take as many steps as possible to reduce the likelihood of being stung. Be aware that bees, wasps, hornets, and yellow jackets are a threat in every state and are most active in late summer and early fall. Red or black fire ants are more common in the southern U.S. and are active year-round. Steps you should take whenever you go out include:

  • Wearing footwear in the grass.
  • Avoiding open soft drink cans, which may attract stinging insects to crawl inside.
  • Keeping your food covered outside.
  • Avoid sweet-smelling perfume, hairspray, or deodorant.
  • Avoid brightly-colored, flowery clothing.
  • Wear long pants, long-sleeves, socks, shoes, and work gloves when working outdoors.
  • Be cautious when approaching bushes, eaves, attics, garbage containers, and picnic areas.
  • If you have a nest in your home, have a professional exterminator remove it and inspect your home.

Fire ant stings vary from person to person. They have a particular way of responding to what they perceive as a significant threat. When a fire ant mound is disturbed, thousands of fire ants react to the threat. Each ant bites and stings several times; they also like to hold on, making them difficult to remove quickly.

Most people will develop a hive or lump around the bitten area, which lasts for 30 – 60 minutes. Afterwards, a blister appears, which fills with a pus-like material for 8 – 24 hours. Do not pop the blister, or else you might cause an infection to occur. If the blister does pop, clean it with soap and water, then apply a topical corticosteroid ointment or oral antihistamines to relieve itching.

Don’t Let Allergies Get the Best of You

If you have had a severe or systemic allergic reaction, our doctors will be able to determine the cause of your allergy symptoms for certain. Most importantly, we will be able to give you a plan for protecting you from allergic reactions and prescribe an epinephrine injector if necessary.

If you are worried about your allergies, speak with Dr. Shukla. Dr. Shukla is successful physician with experience in asthma, allergies, and sleep apnea, with fifteen years of experience. No matter what type of symptoms or circumstances you are in, Dr. Shukla will be able to create a specialized treatment plan for you.

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