Bee Careful! Stinging Insect Allergies 101

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Getting stung hurts. Sometimes, it can be deadly. According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA), stinging insect allergies affect about 5 percent of the U.S. population. Although many people associate bee stings as the primary agent of an anaphylactic reaction, fire ants, hornets, yellow-jackets and wasps also cause allergic reactions. Most people stung by insects recover without anaphylaxis and epipen injections. Still, 90 to 100 deaths occur from stinging insect allergies in the United States every year.

Stinging Insect Allergic Reaction Basics

Bees usually don't sting unless provoked. Stepping on them or swatting at them or their nests can make them feel endangered. Some insects can sting multiple times. Others lose their stinger and quickly die. Stingers are barbed, injecting a substance called venom from a venom sac into the bloodstream.

Most people just feel a twinge of pain when they are stung. There may be redness, itching and minor swelling at the injection site. But for some, getting stung means a trip to the emergency room for 4 to 6 hours of observation AFTER they treat themselves with an epipen and Benadryl liquid (not tablets or meltaways) to make sure that there's no second reaction. Do not drive yourself to the emergency room. Call 911. Many severely allergic people get diffuse hives over their body and have trouble breathing. This multi-systemic reaction is called anaphylaxis. Multi-systemic means that more than one body system is involved, most notably the respiratory and circulatory systems.

Treating Non-Allergy Stings

If you aren't allergic to stinging insects and want to limit the amount of venom released into your bloodstream, you will need to remove the stinger and its venom sac. Unfortunately, most venom is released into the bloodstream within about three seconds of getting stung, says the AAFA. However, scraping the stinger out gently with a credit card, fingernail or removing it with a tweezers, will allow you to treat your sting with ice and ibuprofen after washing the site with soap and water.

Not Sure? Get Allergy Testing

If your reaction to getting stung leaves you unsure that you may have a stinging insect allergy, get tested. Your primary care physician can order a blood test to see if you are allergic. If you are, you may want to consult an allergist. Allergists specialize in treating all sorts of allergies. They will create an action care plan that tells you the steps you need to take in case you have a bee sting allergic reaction (or any other stinging insect allergic reaction). They will also show you how to use an epipen and teach you how to manage your allergy and how to educate others should you experience a severe reaction.

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