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When you are
stung by an insect, poisons and other toxins enter your skin. It's normal to
have some swelling, redness, pain, and itching around the sting. But you may
allergic reaction if your
immune system reacts strongly to
allergens in the sting.
You probably won't have a severe allergic reaction the first time you are stung. But even if
your first reaction to a sting is mild, allergic reactions can get worse with
each sting. Your next reaction may be more severe or even deadly.
An allergic reaction occurs when your immune system reacts strongly to
the allergens in the sting.
A few types of stinging insects cause
most allergic reactions. They are:
Symptoms of an allergic
reaction can range from mild to severe.
Mild reactions may cause:
Large, local reactions may cause the same symptoms as mild reactions, plus:
A large local reaction can take up to 10 days to go away.1
Severe reactions may cause:
doctor may do a physical exam and ask you questions about your symptoms and
past health. He or she also may want you to have allergy tests after you get
better from the allergic reaction. Allergy tests, such as skin prick tests or blood tests, can help you find out which
types of insect stings you are most allergic to.
When you are stung
If you or your child has severe reactions, your doctor may prescribe epinephrine, such as an EpiPen, and antihistamine medicine that you keep in an allergy kit. Keep the kit with you or your child at all times. Teach others, such as teachers, friends, or coworkers, what to do if you're stung and how to give the shot. Also, be sure to wear a medical alert bracelet or other jewelry that lists your allergies. During an emergency, these can save your life.
You may also want to try allergy shots,
called immunotherapy, to help prevent worse allergic reactions in the
To reduce your
chances of being stung:
If you are stung, stay as calm and quiet as you can. Then move away from the insect and leave
the area, because the nest may be close by.
Remove the stinger from your skin. It may be best to scrape or flick the stinger off
your skin—squeezing or gripping the stinger to pull it out may inject more
venom into your wound. If you were stung in your arm or leg, lower it to slow the spread of venom. Then treat the insect sting based on the type of reaction you have.
Health Tools help you make wise health decisions or take action to improve your health.
Learning about allergies to insect stings:
The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology
publishes an excellent series of pamphlets on allergies, asthma, and related
information. It also provides physician referrals.
The American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology
(ACAAI) provides allergy information for consumers, including a nationwide
allergist referral service.
The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA)
provides information and support for people who have allergies or asthma. The
AAFA has local chapters and support groups. And its Web site has online
resources, such as fact sheets, brochures, and newsletters, both free and for
This website is sponsored by the Nemours Foundation. It
has a wide range of information about children's health, from allergies and
diseases to normal growth and development (birth to adolescence). This website
offers separate areas for kids, teens, and parents, each providing
age-appropriate information that the child or parent can understand. You can
sign up to get weekly emails about your area of interest.
Golden DB, et al. (2011). Stinging insect
hypersensitivity: A practice parameter update 2011. Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, 127(4): 852–854.e23.
Other Works Consulted
Golden DBK (2011). Allergic reactions to hymenoptera.
In EG Nabel, ed., ACP Medicine, section 6,
chap. 15. Hamilton, ON: BC Decker.
House H (2006). Insect bites and stings. In MR
Dambro, ed., Griffith's 5-Minute Clinical Consult, pp.
590–591. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins.
Reisman RE (2007). Insect sting allergy. In P
Lieberman, JA Anderson, eds., Allergic Diseases Diagnosis and Treatment, 3rd ed., vol. 1, pp. 71–81. Totowa, NJ: Humana
Schwartz LB (2012). Systemic anaphylaxis, food
allergy, and insect sting allergy. In L Goldman, A Shafer, eds.,
Goldman's Cecil Medicine, 24th ed., vol. 3, pp.
1633–1638. Philadelphia: Saunders.
Bernstein IL, et al. (2008). Allergy diagnostic testing: An updated practice parameter. Annals of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology, 100(3, Suppl 3): S1–S148.
Tankersley MS (2008). The stinging impact of the imported fire ant. Current Opinion in Allergy and Clinical Immunology, 8(4): 354–359.
January 5, 2012
E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine & Rohit K Katial, MD - Allergy and Immunology
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