Stinging insects such as wasps, hornets, yellow jackets, 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.

insect bites

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.

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 & swelling in throat
  • Difficulty breathing or tightness in chest
  • Hives, itching, and swelling in areas other than site of sting

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

A little boy scratching his arm from a red mosquito bite

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 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.
Kid spraying his legs due to allergies from insect bites

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.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do Bee Sting Allergies Run in Families?

Can You Develop an Allergy to Bee Stings?

Can Autoimmune Cause Insect Allergies?