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Insect Allergy

Pain, redness, itching, and some swelling around the area of an insect bite is normal, often expected! However, if you find these symptoms spreading to other areas of the body, experience difficulty breathing, feel swelling in your tongue or throat, experience abdominal pain, or have an anaphylactic reaction after getting stung or bitten, you might be allergic to insect venom. If this has happened to you, it is important to seek medical attention and schedule an appointment with an allergist, as subsequent insect stings or bites can cause an even more serious reaction.

Symptoms of an Insect Allergy

The severity of an insect sting/bite reaction depends on the individual. These can range from the mild symptoms of a normal reaction, which include pain, swelling, redness, or itching confined to the sting/bite site, to a life-threatening reaction known as anaphylaxis. Common symptoms of an insect venom allergy include:

  • Itching, hives, and/or swelling (primarily at the sting site)
  • Tightness in the chest, wheezing, and/or cough
  • Abdominal pain, vomiting, nausea, and/or diarrhea
  • Mouth or lip tingling and/or itching
  • Anaphylaxis

Anaphylaxis is a life-threatening allergic reaction requiring immediate, emergency medical attention. Symptoms typically come on suddenly and can rapidly progress. Symptoms include:

  • Dramatic drop in blood pressure
  • Rapid, weak heartbeat
  • Throat and tongue swelling
  • Difficulty breathing and/or swallowing
  • Hoarseness
  • Hives, itching, and/or bodily swelling
  • Dizziness or fainting
  • Cardiac arrest

Even if an individual successfully administers an epinephrine injection and begins to feel better, immediate medical attention must still be sought.

Causes of an Insect Allergy

Allergic reactions are the result of an overactive immune response to foreign substances that may not necessarily be harmful. Upon first exposure, your immune system produces immunoglobulin E (IgE) antibodies specific to the foreign substance (known as an allergen). Upon repeated exposure, your immune system triggers IgE antibodies to start the production of a variety of chemicals that induce bodily inflammation. Insect venom is inherently harmful to the human body, so a local reaction in the area of the bite is quite common. However, individuals with insect allergies have an immune system that will overreact to insect venom, causing a systemic (throughout the body) reaction that can affect the skin, airways, gastrointestinal tract, etc. Insect sting allergies tend to result in more severe reactions than insect bite allergies. The majority of stinging insect allergies result from the stings of:

  • Bees, such as honey bees or bumblebees
  • Hornets
  • Wasps, such as paper wasps
  • Yellow-jackets
  • Ants, though mostly fire ants

The majority of biting insect allergies result from the bites of:

  • Mosquitoes
  • Bed bugs
  • Kissing bugs
  • Fleas
  • Certain flies

Diagnosis and Treatment of an Insect Allergy

Some of the most important diagnostic components your physician requires include detailed information about previous stings, the number of stings in one episode, what symptoms appeared, how quickly those symptoms appeared, how long they lasted after the fact, if you received emergency treatment, etc. Because of this, testing an insect allergy is not always required. However, blood or skin testing can help you and your allergist find out the cause of your allergic symptoms if the source of the symptoms is unknown. Mild allergic reactions can be treated at home with over-the-counter medications and at-home measures. However, patients who experience severe insect allergy symptoms should seek immediate medical attention and consult an experienced allergy specialist. At Frontier Allergy Asthma and Immunology, our allergy specialist has extensive knowledge, training, and experience in diagnosing and treating insect allergies. If your allergist finds you do indeed have an allergy to insect venom, they will provide you with an emergency treatment plan and a prescription for emergency self-injectable epinephrine in the case of an insect sting/bite. Your allergy specialist will also likely recommend a medication plan and discuss whether vespid immunotherapy would be a good fit for your unique needs. Vespid immunotherapy, like immunotherapy treatment for environmental allergens, involves administering small amounts of the allergen triggering your allergic symptoms so that your immune system builds a tolerance to the allergen over time.

Next steps

If you are interested in further discussion about your specific needs, Dr. Reshamwala is happy to see you and answer any questions you may have. Please call (512) 535-2655 or email to schedule an appointment today! Book an appointment

Written by: Dr. Neha Reshamwala
NPI number: 1780874578
Page last reviewed: 03/20/21

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