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.
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
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:
Mild to moderate swelling
Warmth at the sting site
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.