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Savannah Allergy Associates

Stinging Insect Allergies

Stinging Insect Allergies

Many people in our community are enjoying more of the great outdoors.  Unfortunately, this will also increase their chances of being stung or bitten by insects.  For a great many people, a bee sting or fire ant bite causes only minor discomfort, but for about 5% of the nation's population, very serious or even life-threatening reactions can result.  In fact, at least 40 deaths a year can be attributed to the serious reactions caused by insect stings.

Many people do not know they are allergic to insect stings and may not have a serious reaction the first time they are stung.  However, when allergies are present, the next sting is about 60% likely to be the same as or worse than the one preceding it.  This is because the body makes antibodies called IGE after the first sting, and all subsequent stings react with these antibodies to trigger the release of histamine and other chemical in the body.  The result is an allergic reaction.

The most serious allergic reactions are called anaphylaxis and can be fatal.  Anaphylaxis can cause hives, throat swelling, and difficulty breathing.  Severe cases can result in rapidly falling blood pressure, shock, and organ failure.  Insect sting reactions are a serious medical condition and require immediate emergency care and monitoring.  For this reason, people who know they are allergic should always carry medications such as Benadryl and an Epi-pen, an emergency dose of epinephrine, for use in emergencies.  It is important to note, however, that while these medications may slow the reaction, they are not a "cure" and a victim should still seek medical attention immediately

In addition to avoidance, people with insect allergies may also want to consider undergoing venom immunotherapy to reduce or prevent allergic sting reactions in the future.  Like regular allergy injections, venom shots work by gradually desensitizing the patient to the insect venom that causes problems.  Ideally, this means that the body's reaction to a sting would be less dramatic and thus less dangerous.

Tips for Avoiding Insect Stings

  • Avoid disturbing likely beehive sites, such as large trees, tree stumps, logs, and large rocks.
  • Do not walk barefoot in the grass as many stings occur by stepping on bees or into ant beds.
  • Hornets and wasps often nest in bushes, trees, and under roofs, so exercise caution.
    Bright colors attract insects.  Bees are agitated by the color black and calmed by the color blue.
  • Insects also like food and strong smells-many are found around picnic areas and garbage cans.
  • Don't wear perfumes, hairsprays, and colognes when out of doors.
  • If a colony is disturbed, run and find cover quickly.  Running in a zigzag pattern is helpful.
    Never stand still or crawl into a hole or other space with no way out.
  • Do not slap at bees or other stinging insects.
  • Cover as much of the head and face as possible while trying to escape.
  • Once clear of bees, remove stingers and seek medical attention immediately.

Adapted from medicinenet.com and allergypreventioncenter.com articles.  Some information provided by the AAAAI.

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