What are allergies to insect stings?
allergic reaction to a sting occurs when your body's
immune system overreacts to substances called
allergens in the venom of stinging insects such as
bees, wasps, hornets, or fire ants.
What is a systemic allergic reaction?
allergic reactions occur around the site of the sting (localized reaction) and
can cause redness, swelling, fatigue, nausea, and a low fever. A more serious
allergic reaction can spread throughout your entire body (systemic reaction)
and cause symptoms such as itching,
hives, and swelling of the tongue, throat, or other
body parts. A life-threatening systemic allergic reaction called anaphylaxis
can cause severe symptoms such as confusion, difficulty breathing,
shock, and sometimes death.
What is immunotherapy for allergies to insect stings?
Standard immunotherapy is a series of allergy shots that can prevent or
reduce the severity of symptoms during a systemic allergic reaction. Allergy
shots are not needed if you have mild, local allergic reactions to insect
Allergy shots work by introducing small amounts of insect
venom into your body, making you less sensitive over time to the venom.
Once allergy tests have identified the insect(s) you are allergic to, you
can begin immunotherapy. At first, you will receive weekly shots containing
small doses of venom and allergens from the insect(s) that cause your
allergies. After about 4 to 6 months of weekly shots, you will receive a
maintenance dose every 4 weeks for another 4 to 6 months. Finally, you will
continue getting monthly shots for 3 to 5 years, depending on the type of
stings that cause your allergies; for example, fire ant allergies require
longer treatment than other stinging insect allergies.
What is rush immunotherapy?
Accelerated or "rush"
immunotherapy is done to rapidly increase your tolerance to an allergen. A
series of shots is usually given every few hours on the same day or every few
days. When the first injection is given, you must wait a period of time to see
whether you have a reaction to the shot. If you do not, additional shots are
given throughout the day. You (or your child) may have some anxiety about
receiving the next injection; it may be helpful to bring a book or something to
distract yourself while you wait for the next shot.
reached much more quickly with rush immunotherapy than standard
immunotherapy-usually in 1 to 8 days instead of several months. Rush
immunotherapy may be given if you have severe or life-threatening allergic
reactions to insect stings, are a long distance from any type of health care
facility, have severe
allergic asthma, or are about to travel.
What are the risks of immunotherapy for allergies to insect stings?
Allergy shots are safe for most people. The most common
side effects are redness and warmth at the injection site. Some people may
experience large local reactions that include itching, hives, or swelling of
the skin near the injection site.
However, allergy shots can
trigger a more serious systemic reaction, which may include difficulty
breathing or swelling in the deep layers of the skin. On rare occasions, a
person may have a life-threatening allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) to
the shots. Because of this possibility, the shots are given in a health care
facility or other setting where emergency care can be provided if
Talk with your health professional if you have an
autoimmune disease (such as
lupus) or are taking medications for heart problems
(such as beta-blockers); allergy shots may not be safe for you.
If you need more information, see the topic
Allergies to Insect Stings.