Most insect stings fall in the annoying category but for allergic individuals an encounter with a stinging insect can be life-threatening. The majority of people are not allergic to insect stings but about two million Americans are, according to the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI).
Most individuals experience pain and discomfort with an insect sting while a small number (0.5-5 percent) will have a severe reaction, known as anaphylaxis. Most stings come from wasps, yellow jacks, hornets and bees, found throughout the U.S., and fire ants in the Southeastern states.
What is a normal versus allergic reaction?
Often, individuals aren’t sure if they or someone else is experiencing a normal or allergic reaction. A reaction will occur immediately, within minutes or even hours of the sting. A normal reaction involves redness, swelling and itching around the area stung. Signs of an allergic reaction include:
•Swelling of the face or mouth
•Difficulty swallowing or speaking
•Chest tightness, wheezing or difficulty breathing
•Dizziness or fainting
•Abdominal pain, nausea or vomiting.
What to do for an allergic reaction?
•Call 911 if there are signs of a severe allergic reaction.
•Some individuals will carry their own injectable epinephrine (EpiPen) for emergency situations but still should see a doctor.
•Individuals who experience an allergic reaction to an insect sting have a 60 percent chance of having a similar or worse reaction if stung again.
What to do for a normal reaction?
•Leave the location where the sting occurred.
•Remove the stinger by gently scraping the skin horizontally with the edge of a credit card or your fingernail.
•Wash the area with soap and water.
•To reduce pain and itchiness, apply a paste made from any of the following combinations (baking soda and a little water; one crushed-up aspirin and water; or meat tenderizer and water). Apply ice or a cool wet cloth.
•Symptoms normally lessen or disappear in several hours.
How to avoid being stung?
•Wear light-colored clothing. Black, red and blue have been shown in studies to attract stinging insects.
•Don’t wear perfume or cologne as their sweet fragrances draw insects.
•Keep picnic foods and garbage cans covered at all times. Foods, such as fruit, red meat, sodas and anything in heavy syrup, are especially attractive to stinging insects.
•Don’t wave wildly or swat frantically at insects as this only irritates them. Instead, try a gentle pushing or brushing motion.
•Stay out of the territory of stinging insects’ nests as these bugs are likely to attack if their homes are disturbed.