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Allergic Reactions to Insect Stings

How Are Normal or Localized Reactions Treated? continued...

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 drug (NSAID) 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 drug's use.

How Are Allergic Reactions Treated?

An allergic reaction is treated with epinephrine (adrenaline), either self-injected or given by a doctor. Usually this injection will stop the development of a 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 must remember to carry epinephrine with them wherever they go.

Also, because one dose may not be enough to reverse the reaction, 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 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, as you may 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.

What Are Epinephrine Sting Kits?

Epinephrine self-administration kits are important for you to use immediately after being stung, before you get to a doctor for treatment. The two most common have the brand names Ana-Kit and Epi-Pen. However, these kits should not be used as a substitute for medical intervention. You should still see a doctor after being stung. Epinephrine alone is not always enough to reverse serious allergic sting reactions and may cause serious side effects in some people with heart conditions or people who are taking certain drugs.

You will need a prescription from your doctor to purchase one of these kits. You should carry two kits with you at all times. Before using, be sure to let your doctor know about any medication you are taking to prevent drug interactions.

WebMD Medical Reference

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