Bee stings and allergies: prevention and treatment tips

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Symptoms of an allergic reaction to an insect sting may include itching and hives, swelling in the throat or tongue, or difficulty breathing.
Symptoms of an allergic reaction to an insect sting may include itching and hives, swelling in the throat or tongue, or difficulty breathing.

The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology has provided prevention and treatment tips for insect stings.

For patients who are allergic to the insects' venom, anaphylaxis can occur. Symptoms may include 2 or more of the following:
  • Itching and hives
  • Swelling in the throat or tongue
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Dizziness
  • Stomach cramps
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea

In severe cases, a rapid decrease in blood pressure may lead to shock and loss of consciousness. Emergency medical treatment should be sought by anyone with these symptoms after a sting.

Prevention tips for stings

  • Stay away. These insects are most likely to sting if their homes are disturbed, so it is important to destroy nests around your home. The most common stinging insects include yellow jackets, bumble bees, honeybees, wasps, hornets, and fire ants.
  • Remain calm and move slowly away if an insect is encountered.
  • Avoid brightly colored clothing and perfume when outdoors.
  • Because the smell of food attracts insects, be careful outdoors when cooking, eating, or drinking sweet drinks such as soda or juice. Beware of insects inside straws or canned drinks. Keep food covered until it is eaten.
  • Wear closed-toe shoes outdoors, and avoid going barefoot.
  • Avoid loose-fitting garments that can trap insects between material and skin.

Treatment tips for stings 

If the insect has left its stinger in the skin, the stinger should be removed within 30 seconds to limit the accumulation of venom. A quick scrape of the fingernail removes the stinger and sac. Avoid squeezing the sac, which forces more venom through the stinger and into your skin.

The following steps can help treat patients' local reactions to insect stings:

  • Raise the affected limb, and apply a cold compress to reduce swelling and pain.
  • Gently clean the area with soap and water to prevent secondary infections; do not break blisters.
  • Use topical steroid ointments or oral antihistamines to relieve itching.

Patients who are severely allergic to insects should carry auto-injectable epinephrine and be advised on how and when to self-administer the epinephrine and to replace the device before the expiration date.

Patients with severe allergies may want to consider wearing a bracelet or necklace that identifies the wearer as having severe allergies.

Reference

  1. Stinging insect allergy. American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology. Accessed July 27, 2017.
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