Carolina Asthma & Allergy Center

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Stinging insect allergies and venom desensitization!

by Michael A. Lapuente, D.O.

In the Southeast, bees, wasps, yellow jackets, white faced hornets, yellow faced hornets, and fire ants are common stinging insects that can produce an allergic reaction.
While a sting from these can take place at any time during the year, these insects have a tendency to become very aggressive during the late summer/early fall when their food sources become scarce.

These insects inject their venom into their victims at the site of the sting. Most people develop a mild reaction to the sting, which may include symptoms such as local pain, itching redness, or local swelling. Usually these symptoms last a few hours, but on occasion may last longer. These symptoms are not indicative of a life-threatening situation.

Some individuals can experience a very severe reaction that is life-threatening. Severe allergic reactions may develop rapidly and can involve more than one organ system. Symptoms of a severe reaction include: itching and hives over different parts of the body, difficulty breathing or swallowing, swelling in the throat or of the tongue, dizziness, a drop in blood pressure, stomach cramping, nausea, diarrhea, and loss of consciousness. These symptoms require immediate emergency medical treatment.

A board certified allergist can diagnose stinging insect allergies through a series of simple skin tests. In some instances, a blood test may be required. After diagnosis, a treatment can be recommended. Therapy for this type of allergy does exist. Venom desensitization – a series of injections – can create an immune defense against a severe, life threatening reaction.

Any individual who has been diagnosed with a stinging insect allergy MUST ALWAYS have an auto-injector of epinephrine available AT ALL TIMES. In addition, people with an insect sting allergy should wear a medical alert bracelet stating their specific allergy.
Avoiding Insect Stings

1.  Wear shoes that encase your feet at all times.
2.  Wear clothing colors when outdoors that do not attract insects, such as white or gray.
3.  Wear garments that fit close to your body. Insects can become trapped in loose fitting clothing.
4.  Avoid scented soaps, cosmetics, and perfumes.
5.  Stay away from insect feeding grounds such as flower beds, fields of clover, garbage and orchards with ripe fruit.
6.  Keep automobile windows closed. Aside from the possibility of a sting, stinging insects in a car can arouse such terror in a sting sensitive person as
to create a dangerous driver.
7.  Spray areas around garbage with an effective insecticide.
8.  Nests, hives, or mounds that house stinging insects should be destroyed by a professional exterminator.