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What is an Insect Bite & Sting Allergy?
Many people have allergic reactions when they are stung by insects. Insects such as bees, bumble bees, wasps, yellow jackets, hornets, and fire ants have the ability to inject venom into humans and animals. In the United States overall, yellow jackets cause the most allergic reactions. In the South, fire ants are more common. Venom in the insects contains proteins which causes allergic reactions in people.
Usually, an insect sting allergy occurs a few minutes after the sting, while more severe reactions are experienced within minutes. Insect stings may not always result in a reaction on the first sting. However, a very strong allergic reaction may occur on the second sting. A more serious reaction is known as an anaphylactic reaction, and people often die from it. People who are highly allergic to insect stings should wear a medic alert bracelet and have epinephrine available in the form of an Epi-pen or Ana-kit. If a reaction takes a few days to develop, the symptoms are less severe.
Signs and symptoms
The most common symptoms and signs that are experienced by most people who have an allergic reaction to an insect sting include:
- Intense itching
- Eye itching
If someone experiences a severe allergic reaction, symptoms of anaphylaxis may appear and they include:
- Rapid pulse
- Difficulty breathing
- Swelling of the throat and tongue
- Severe drop in blood pressure
- Severe stomach cramps
Diagnosing an Insect Bite & Sting Allergy
The diagnosis of an insect sting or allergy is usually based on your physical symptoms. Your doctor will check your pulse, blood pressure, skin for swelling and hives, lungs for wheezing and upper airway for any obstruction. Certain tests such as an ECG or chest x-ray may be performed.
What Causes an Insect Bite & Sting Allergy?
An allergic reaction to an insect sting occurs when there is an overreaction from the body’s immune system to the venom of an insect. The body produces an allergic substance called an immunoglobulin (IgE) antibody, which reacts to the protein in the venom, usually at the first sting or later. IgE triggers the release of various chemicals, including histamine that causes the allergic reaction.
Help for an Insect Bite & Sting Allergy
Most insect stings can be treated at home. In the case of honeybee stings, the stinger is usually lodged in the skin and it needs to be removed immediately. This may be done by scraping the area with a credit card or fingernail. Do not try to pinch the stinger to pull it out, as this will only inject more venom.
To control the swelling, elevate the body part that has been stung and apply ice. Medication such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen may help to relieve pain and antihistamine pills will control the itching. Topical creams such as hydrocortisone creams or calamine lotion may also be applied to reduce itching, or a homemade paste of baking soda and water can be rubbed onto the skin. If you experience a severe reaction, you would need to see a doctor, who will be able to prescribe a stronger dose of antihistamine pills.
Natural and holistic treatments have been used for centuries to treat insect bites and allergies, as well as support the body’s immune system. Herbal and homeopathic remedies are safe, effective and gentle to use on the body without the harsh side effects of conventional medications.
Herbs such as Quercitin act as a powerful anti-oxidant that boost immunity and improve circulation while Euphrasia officinalis (Eyebright) maintains eye heath and good vision. Homeopathic ingredients such as Arsen alb., Nat. mur and Kali mur. help to maintain skin, liver and nervous health and also promote healthy fluids in the body.
More Information on Insect Allergies
Tips to help prevent insect allergies
There are certain precautions that can be taken to avoid insect allergies:
- Spray insect repellent in areas where fleas, mosquitoes, flies or ticks are common
- De-flea pets regularly with anti-flea preparations
- Sleep under a mosquito net
- Cover arms and legs during activities such as gardening, field trips or hiking
- Avoid wearing brightly colored clothing or sweet-smelling fragrances that may attract bees or wasps
- Always cover food, especially at picnics or cookouts, as insects are easily attracted to the smell
- Keep garbage containers closed and clean them regularly
- Move slowly and remain calm and quiet when insects are flying around – do not swat or flail your arms
- Inspect your home thoroughly for insect nests or places where insects may build nests such as around eaves, attics, vents or window frames
- Carry an insecticide spray that may be used specifically for insects that you may be allergic to