Health Library

Health Library

Allergen: Insect Stings

Insect stings that most commonly cause allergic reactions

Insects that are members of the Hymenoptera family most commonly cause allergic reactions. These include:

  • Bees

  • Wasps

  • Hornets

  • Yellow jackets

  • Fire ants

Allergic reactions to insect stings

Usually, the reaction is short-lived, with redness and swelling followed by pain and itching. Generally, the reaction lasts only a few hours, although some may last longer.

For other people, however, allergic reactions to these insect stings can be life-threatening. This severe reaction is a medical emergency that can involve organ systems throughout the body. The reaction is called anaphylaxis and can include severe symptoms such as:

  • Itching and hives over most of the body

  • Swelling of the throat and tongue

  • Difficulty in breathing and tightness in the chest

  • Dizziness

  • Headache

  • Stomach cramps, nausea, or diarrhea

  • Rapid fall in blood pressure

  • Shock

  • Loss of consciousness

  • Hoarse voice or swelling of the tongue

Immediate medical attention is required.

Can insect stings be prevented?

Avoidance of insects is the best preventive measure. Suggestions include:

  • When outdoors, be cautious of drinking from open soft drink cans. Stinging insects are attracted to them, and can crawl inside.

  • Keep food covered when eating outdoors.

  • Avoid sweet-smelling perfumes, hairsprays, and deodorants.

  • Avoid wearing bright-colored clothing with flowery patterns. 

  • Avoid going barefoot, and wear closed-toe shoes when walking in grassy areas.

  • When gardening, watch for nests in trees, shrubs, and flower beds.

  • Other areas in which to use caution: swimming pools, woodpiles, under eaves of houses, and trash containers.

Treatment for insect stings

Specific treatment for insect stings will be determined by your doctor based on:

  • Your age, overall health, and medical history

  • Extent of the reaction

  • Your tolerance for specific medications, procedures, or therapies

  • Expectations for the course of the reaction

  • Your opinion or preference

Suggestions for immediate treatment for highly allergic people, according to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, include:

  • When possible, immediately remove stinger, and scrape over the area with a fingernail. However, do not squeeze the area, which may force the venom into the body.

  • An emergency treatment kit should be kept nearby at all times. Talk with your doctor about what it should include.

  • Seek emergency care as soon as possible.

Allergen: Insect Stings - WellSpan Health

Online Medical Reviewer: Berry, Judith, PhD, APRN
Online Medical Reviewer: Sohrabi, Farrokh, MD
© 2014 WellSpan Health. All Rights Reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.

Are you sure you would like to cancel?

All information will be lost.

Yes No ×

About the provider search

This search will provide you with WellSpan Medical Group and Northern Lancaster County (Ephrata) Medical Group primary care physicians and specialists. If we don’t have a WellSpan Medical Group physician to meet your criteria, the search will expand to include community physicians who partner with WellSpan Medical Group physicians through the WellSpan Provider Network or provide care to patients on the Medical Staffs of WellSpan’s Hospitals.

×