Skin Problems & Treatments Health Home

Allergic Reactions to Insect Stings


How Are Normal or Localized Reactions Treated?

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

If stung by a bee, the insect 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 and then apply an antiseptic.

If swelling is a problem, apply an ice pack or cold compress to the area. Elevate the area above the level of your heart, if possible, to decrease the swelling.

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. The antihistamine can also make you drowsy, so do not drive or operate heavy machinery after taking it.

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 Serious 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.