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What’s the Buzz About Insect Sting Allergies?

About 2 million people in the U.S. have an allergic reaction to being stung by certain insects. The most common culprits are bees, wasps, yellow jackets, hornets, and fire ants. What happens when you get stung? And what, if anything, can you do about an insect sting allergy? In case you get stung or have an allergic reaction to getting stung, here are some tips to help you stay safe throughout the warmer months.

What’s the buzz about insect sting allergies? Rhode Island Allergy Help

3 types of reactions to getting stung

While the severity of symptoms varies from person to person, here are the three main types of reactions:

  1. A normal reaction includes pain, swelling, and redness around the sting site.
  2. A larger, but localized reaction causes swelling that goes beyond the sting site. For example, if you get stung on the hand, your entire arm may swell up. Typically, this type of reaction is not serious and the swelling goes down after a day or two. 
  3. An allergic reaction can trigger anaphylaxis, which is very serious, and requires immediate medical care. 

What happens during an allergic reaction?

Again, the allergic reaction can vary from mild to very serious. A mild reaction typically causes pain, redness, pimple-like spots, mild-to-moderate swelling, warmth to the touch, and itching at and around the sting site. 

A severe allergic reaction—also known as anaphylaxis—is less common, but when it occurs it’s an emergency. Symptoms can include difficulty breathing, hives, swelling of the face, throat, mouth, or tongue, wheezing, trouble swallowing, rapid pulse, dizziness, anxiety, and stomach cramps, nausea, or diarrhea. Emergency medical treatment is necessary to avoid blockage of vital airways.

What should you do if you get stung?

  • For those who are not allergic – If a stinger is left behind in your skin, remove it by scraping it off. Wash the area with soap and apply an antiseptic. Apply a cool compress or ice pack if there’s any swelling. Take an over-the-counter antihistamine or pain reliever such as ibuprofen as directed on the package to relieve any pain, itching, or swelling. 
  • For those who are allergic If you have a severe allergy to insect stings, you should carry an EpiPen with you at all times so you can give yourself an epinephrine injection before calling 911 for help. 

Can an insect sting allergy be cured?

In some cases, yes. Allergy immunotherapy is an effective treatment for insect sting allergies. These allergy shots or sublingual allergy drops work by slowly introducing the allergen into your system in a controlled way. Over time, your body builds up a tolerance to it so you no longer have an allergic reaction. AAPRI is the only practice in Rhode Island that offers allergy immunotherapy.

The benefits of bee products

Bee pollen and raw honey are increasingly popular treatments for symptoms caused by seasonal allergies. According to Dr. Z, “bee pollen is incredibly healthy, full of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.” He also adds that propolis, which is a component of honey, is thought to have benefits for the microbiome and the immune system. However, he cautions that bee pollen is not for everyone. “Bee pollen or raw honey may be able to mitigate seasonal allergies such as an allergy to pollen, but it will not fix a bee sting allergy!”

Getting tested is the first step toward treatment

At AAPRI, we provide testing services to help you determine if you have an insect sting allergy. “To find the right treatment, it’s important to understand the boundaries between reactions, allergies, and sensitivities to bee stings and other kinds of stings,” says Dr. Z. Contact us to schedule a consultation at one of our 3 convenient Rhode Island locations today!

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