Skip to content
My WebMD Sign In, Sign Up

Allergies Health Center

Select An Article
Font Size

Allergies to Insect Stings

Bee, wasp, yellow jacket, hornet, or fire ant stings are the insect stings that most often trigger allergies. However, most people are not allergic to insect stings and may mistake a normal sting reaction for an allergic reaction. By knowing the difference, you can prevent unnecessary worry and visits to the doctor.

The severity of an insect sting reaction varies from person to person. There are three types of reactions -- normal, localized, and allergic:

  • A normal reaction will result in pain, swelling, and redness around the sting site.
  • A large local reaction will result in swelling that extends beyond the sting site. For example, a person stung on the ankle may have swelling of the entire leg. While it often looks alarming, it is generally no more serious than a normal reaction.
  • The most serious reaction to an insect sting is an allergic one (described below). This condition requires immediate medical attention.

What Are the Symptoms of an Insect Sting Allergy?

Symptoms of a severe insect sting allergy (called an anaphylactic reaction) may include one or more of the following:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Hives that appear as a red, itchy rash and spread to areas beyond the sting
  • Swelling of the face, throat, or mouth tissue
  • Wheezing or difficulty swallowing
  • Restlessness and anxiety
  • Rapid pulse
  • Dizziness or a sharp drop in blood pressure

Although severe allergic reactions are not that common, they can lead to shock, cardiac arrest, and unconsciousness in 10 minutes or less. This type of reaction can occur within minutes after a sting and can be fatal. Get emergency treatment as soon as possible.

A mild allergic reaction to an insect sting may cause one or more of the following symptoms at the site of the sting:

  • Pain
  • Redness
  • Pimple-like spots
  • Mild to moderate swelling
  • Warmth at the sting site
  • Itching

People who have experienced an allergic reaction to an insect sting have a 60% chance of a similar or worse reaction if they are stung again.

How Common Are Insect Sting Allergies?

About 2 million Americans have allergies to the venom of stinging insects. Many of these individuals are at risk for life-threatening allergic reactions. Approximately 50 deaths each year in the U.S. are attributed to insect sting allergies.

How Are Normal or Localized Allergic Sting Reactions Treated?

First, if stung on the hand, remove any rings from your fingers immediately.

If stung by a bee, the bee usually leaves a sac of venom and a stinger in your skin. Remove the stinger within 30 seconds to avoid receiving more venom. Gently scrape the sac and stinger out with a fingernail or a stiff-edged object like a credit card. Do not squeeze the sac or pull on the stinger -- this will cause the release of more venom into the skin.

WebMD Medical Reference

Next Article:

Today on WebMD

man blowing nose
Make these tweaks to your diet, home, and lifestyle.
Allergy capsule
Breathe easier with these products.
 
cat on couch
Live in harmony with your cat or dog.
Woman sneezing with tissue in meadow
Which ones affect you?
 

woman sneezing
Slideshow
Bottle of allergy capsules and daisies
Article
 
Urban blossoms
Slideshow
Woman blowing nose
Slideshow
 

Send yourself a link to download the app.

Loading ...

Please wait...

This feature is temporarily unavailable. Please try again later.

Thanks!

Now check your email account on your mobile phone to download your new app.

Woman with itchy watery eyes
Slideshow
Allergy prick test
VIDEO
 
Man sneezing into tissue
Tools
woman with duster crinkling nose
Quiz