Allergies to Insect Stings
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.
Wash the stung area with soap and water, then apply an antiseptic.
Apply a soothing ointment, like a hydrocortisone cream or calamine lotion and cover the area with a dry, sterile bandage.
If swelling is a problem, apply an ice pack or cold compress to the area.
Take an over-the-counter oral antihistamine to reduce itching, swelling, and hives. However, this medication should not be given to children under 2 years of age or to pregnant women without prior approval from a doctor.
To relieve pain, take a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medication (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen.
In general, pregnant women should consult their doctors before taking any over-the-counter medicine.
Also, carefully read the warning label on any medicines before taking it. Parents of children and people with medical conditions should consult a pharmacist if they have questions about a medicine's use.
How Are Allergic Sting Reactions Treated?
Severe allergic sting reactions are treated with epinephrine (adrenaline), either self-injected or administered by a doctor. Usually, this injection will stop the development of a more severe allergic reaction.
In some cases, intravenous fluids, oxygen, and other treatments are also necessary. Once stabilized, you are sometimes required to stay overnight at the hospital under close observation. People who have had previous allergic reactions to an insect sting must remember to carry epinephrine with them wherever they go. Immediate medical attention following an insect sting is still recommended.
How Can I Avoid Being Stung?
You can lessen your chances of an insect sting by taking certain precautionary measures:
- Learn to recognize insect nests and avoid them. Yellow jackets nest in the ground in dirt mounds or old logs and walls. Honeybees nest in beehives. Hornets and wasps nest in bushes, trees, and on buildings.
- Wear shoes and socks when outdoors.
- Wear long-sleeved shirts, long pants, socks, and shoes when in rural or wooded areas.
- Avoid wearing perfumes or brightly colored clothing. They tend to attract insects.
- If you have severe allergies, you should never be alone when hiking, boating, swimming, golfing, or otherwise involved outdoors, because you might need prompt medical treatment if stung.
- Use insect screens on windows and doors at home. Use insect repellents. Spray bedrooms with aerosols containing insecticide before going to bed.
- Spray garbage cans regularly with insecticide and keep the cans covered.
- Avoid or remove insect-attracting plants and vines growing in and around the house.
- A severely allergic person should always wear a MedicAlert bracelet and keep a self-care kit (described below) on hand for emergency use in the case of severe symptoms. For more information on where to get a MedicAlert bracelet, you can call 800-ID-ALERT.