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Insect Bite Allergies

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Types of Insects That Can Cause Allergic Reactions

Allergic reactions can be caused by a variety of stinging and biting insects. Common insects that cause allergic reactions include wasps, hornets, yellowjackets, and honeybees, as well as red and black fire ants. Allergic reactions can also be triggered by materials created by an insect, such as the droppings associated with dust mites or cockroaches.

Stinging insects such as wasps, hornets, yellowjackets, and honeybees trigger the majority of allergic reactions in the U.S.

However, there is an increasing rate of fire ants triggering allergic reactions in the southern half of the United States. These insects come in red and black varieties and are not indigenous to the U.S.

Signs & Symptoms of Insect Sting Allergic Reactions

Signs and symptoms of a reaction to an insect sting will vary from one person to the next. It is important to understand the distinction between a normal reaction to an insect sting and an allergic one. Normal reactions include on-site swelling, itching and redness. An allergic reaction, on the other hand, involves non-local reactions, including:

  • Hoarseness and swelling in the throat
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Tightness in the chest
  • Hives, itching, and swelling in areas other than the site of the sting

In very serious cases, a patient can go into anaphylaxis. Symptoms of anaphylaxis include a sharp drop in blood pressure, dizziness, cardiac arrest and loss of consciousness. Anyone experiencing allergic symptoms to an insect sting should seek out immediate medical care.

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What Causes an Allergic Reaction to Insects?

The exact cause of allergic response in the body is unknown. An allergic reaction to an insect results from the body’s immune system overreacting to the sting. In most cases, the insect’s venom will trigger a response in the body. Some patients may also experience an allergic reaction to substances associated with an insect, such as dust mite droppings.

How Insect Bite Allergies are Diagnosed

Diagnosing an insect bite allergy is a multi-step process. Your doctor or allergist will first take a complete medical history, including details on any previous bites experienced.

Diagnosing insect bite allergies also often involves a skin prick test, which involves exposing a small area of the skin to the allergen. In situations in which the results of a skin prick test are inconclusive, your allergist may also conduct an intradermal skin test, which involves injecting a small amount of insect venom under the skin. Finally, blood tests can also be used to finalize a diagnosis.

How to Treat Allergic Reactions to Insects

  • Treating allergic reactions to insects involves both emergency treatment and preventative treatment.
  • Emergency treatment must occur whenever a patient experiences a severe reaction to an insect sting. This can involve self-administration of injectable epinephrine.
  • Preventative treatment involves both limiting exposure to insects as much as possible, as well as venom immunotherapy.
  • Venom immunotherapy involves an allergist exposing the patient to increasing amounts of the insect venom with the goal of reducing the patient’s reaction to the venom.
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How to Prevent Allergic Reactions to Insects

One of the best ways to prevent an allergic reaction to an insect is to avoid exposure to an insect or avoid inciting a bite or sting if exposed to an insect. Tips for preventing allergic reactions include:

  • Maintaining quality screens on household windows
  • Wearing shoes in grassy areas
  • Never swatting at flying insects
  • Avoiding brightly-colored clothing
  • Never wearing sweet perfumes or lotions outdoors

Finally, those who have experienced a severe reaction to an insect sting should always carry appropriate medications with them.

Insect Allergy FAQs

Do Bee Sting Allergies Run in Families?

While the underlying cause of bee sting allergies is unknown, those with a family history of bee sting allergies are at a higher risk of experiencing bee sting allergies.

Can You Develop an Allergy to Bee Stings?

Yes, allergies to bee stings can develop over time. While many will present with bee sting allergies in childhood, other patients do not present with symptoms until later in life. Since it takes a sting typically to determine whether you have an allergy, many do not know they have the allergy because they have never been exposed to a bee sting. Anyone who has a family history of bee sting allergies or who has experienced a severe reaction to a bee sting should consult with an allergist and develop a course of preventative and emergency treatment. It does not take multiple stings to trigger a severe reaction, so anyone who experiences a bee sting should watch for symptoms of a severe reaction, including difficulty breathing, dizziness and loss of consciousness.

Can Autoimmune Cause Insect Allergies?

The cause of insect allergies is not known at this time. Those with autoimmune disorders, however, are at a higher risk of developing allergies, including insect allergies. Those with autoimmune disorders can work in consultation with an allergist to determine whether or not they have certain allergies, including insect allergies.