Honey bees. Wasps. Fire ants. Yellow jackets and hornets. Few people are big fans of these bugs, but for those who have a stinging insect allergy, there’s more at stake than the pain of a simple sting.
Anaphylaxis is a life-threatening reaction that occurs in people who are allergic to the venom of stinging insects. It happens when a person’s immune system overreacts to the proteins in an insect’s venom, and the effects are immediate and very dangerous.
While most people develop pain, swelling and redness at the site of an insect sting, it’s important to watch out for symptoms of an allergy.
These signs include:
- Tightening of the throat
- Wheezing and/or difficulty breathing
- Vomiting or diarrhea
- Lightheadedness or loss of consciousness
- Itchy, watery or swollen eyes
If your child starts having serious allergic symptoms, like swelling of the mouth or throat or difficulty breathing, give an epinephrine auto-injector right away—if you have one. Then, call 911 to take your child to the emergency room. Even if the worst seems to have passed, a second wave of serious symptoms often happens.
Of course, an important part of managing insect stings is avoiding the insects themselves. As the weather warms and families spend more time outdoors, it’s vital to be aware of insects in our surroundings.
- Avoid walking barefoot while on grass.
- Don’t play in areas where insects like to be, such as flower beds.
- Never drink from open soda or juice cans when outdoors. Check for insects in drink cups and straws when outside.
- Stay away from bushes, eaves and garbage cans.
- It can be hard, but remain calm and quiet around any stinging insects you see. Move slowly, and back away without any arm-waving or swatting.
- Never disturb an insect nest. Have an exterminator locate and remove any nests around your home.
- When in wooded areas, stay as covered up as possible. Long-sleeved shirts, long pants, socks, and closed-toe shoes can help keep the bugs away. (Loose clothing can allow insects to get between the clothes and skin.)
- Avoid perfumes, scented body products, and brightly colored and flowered clothing—they all attract insects.
Here’s the tough part: severe allergic reactions to stings usually don’t happen when a child is stung for the first time.
Instead, they occur when the child is stung for a second time—or even later. If you’re concerned that your child may have an allergy to stinging insects, it’s important to see a specialist for diagnosis, treatment and management. An immunologist can use a series of tests to diagnose a stinging insect allergy, and recommend a course of treatment for your child, including allergy shots.