Allergen: Insect Stings
Insects that are members of the Hymenoptera family most commonly cause allergic reactions. These include:
- Yellow jackets
- Fire ants
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
- Stomach cramps, nausea, or diarrhea
- Rapid fall in blood pressure
- Loss of consciousness
- Hoarse voice or swelling of the tongue
Immediate medical attention is required.
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.
Specific treatment for insect stings will be determined by your physician 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 physician about what it should include.
- Seek emergency care as soon as possible.
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