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ACAAI > Patients & Public > Allergies > Types of Allergies > Insect Sting Allergies

Insect Sting Allergy Symptoms

What are symptoms of insect sting allergy?

The most serious reaction to an insect sting is an allergic one. This condition requires immediate medical attention. Symptoms of an allergic reaction may include one or more of the following:

  • Hives, itching and swelling in areas other than the sting site
  • Abdominal cramping, vomiting, intense nausea or diarrhea,
  • Tightness in the chest and difficulty in breathing
  • Hoarse voice or swelling of the tongue or throat, or difficulty swallowing

An even more severe allergic reaction, or anaphylaxis, can occur within minutes after the sting and may be life-threatening. Symptoms may include:

  • Dizziness or a sharp drop in blood pressure
  • Unconsciousness or cardiac arrest
  • People who have experienced an allergic reaction to an insect sting have a 60 percent chance of a similar or worse reaction if stung again.

What is a normal reaction to an insect sting, and how is it treated?

The severity of an insect sting reaction varies from person to person. A normal reaction will result in pain, swelling and redness confined to the sting site. Simply disinfect the area (washing with soap and water will do) and apply ice to reduce the swelling.

A large local reaction will result in swelling that extends beyond the sting site. For example, a sting on the forearm could result in the entire arm swelling. Although alarming in appearance, this condition is often treated the same as a normal reaction. An unusually painful or very large local reaction may need medical attention. Because this condition may persist for two to three days, antihistamines and corticosteroids are sometimes prescribed to lessen the discomfort.

Fire ants, yellow jackets, hornets and wasps can sting repeatedly. Honeybees have barbed stingers that are left behind in their victim's skin. These stingers are best removed by a scraping action, rather than a pulling motion, to avoid squeezing more venom into the skin.

Almost all people stung by fire ants develop an itchy, localized hive or lump at the sting site, which usually subsides within 30 to 60 minutes. This is followed by a small blister within four hours. This usually appears to become filled with pus-like material by eight to 24 hours. However, what is seen is really dead tissue, and the blister has little chance of being infected unless it is opened. When healed, these lesions may leave scars.

Treatment for fire ant stings is aimed at preventing secondary bacterial infection, which may occur if the pustule is scratched or broken. Clean the blisters with soap and water to prevent secondary infection. Do not break the blister. Topical corticosteroid ointments and oral antihistamines may relieve the itching associated with these reactions.

 

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Anaphylaxis Information

Anaphylaxis is a rare but severe allergic reaction that can be deadly. Learn more about the symptoms and emergency treatment for this dangerous condition.

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