3 Things You Need To Know About Stinging Insect Allergies

There are at least 91,000 species of insects in the United States alone -- and those are only the ones we've identified. It goes without saying that human beings have to live alongside these creatures, even though some of them can transfer venom through their stingers. The real danger occurs when this venom contacts people who are highly allergic to it. Here are three things you need to know about this potential hazard.

1. Which Insects Pose the Greatest Threat?

When you think of stinging insects, images of bees and wasps probably come to mind -- and rightly so. But scorpions, hornets, yellow jackets and even fire ants all have stingers they can use to inflict pain. Fortunately, these creatures aren't always spoiling for a fight. There are variations in behavior and threat level from one species of stinging insect to another. Bumble bees and honeybees, for instance, generally leave people alone unless they feel directly threatened or assaulted. But if you live in the Southwestern U.S., you have special reason to fear honeybees, because this area is populated by hyper-aggressive "killer bees" that attack in swarms at the slightest provocation.

2. What Are the Signs of a Dangerous Reaction?

Pain and swelling at the site of the sting are normal reactions to an insect's venom. If you're mildly allergic to the venom in question, you may experience hives and fairly large patches of swelling, but only in the part of the body that was stung. A dangerous fire ant, wasp or bee sting allergic reaction may cause anaphylaxis, a narrowing of the the airway caused by internal swelling. Symptoms include the following:

  • Difficulty breathing or swallowing
  • Hoarseness or other difficulty speaking
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Severe hives and/or swelling
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Dizziness and/or weakness
  • Fainting spells

3. How Can You Guard Against Trouble?

Knowledge is power, so the more you know about your vulnerability to specific stinging insects, the more alert you'll be against their presence and the faster you'll act if you get stung. Allergy testing is a simple and effective process for helping you understand your particular sensitivities. The two main types of testing include the following:

  • Skin tests - Many people display an immediate skin reaction to an allergen. Your doctor can test you for several different types of insect venom at once by applying tiny samples of each type on your skin. If redness, swelling or other reactions occur, you'll know you need to watch out for that particular bug. If the first round of skin testing produces unclear results, an injection just below the skin surface can also be made.
  • Blood tests - If it isn't clear whether you're allergic after trying the available skin testing options, your doctor may perform blood-based allergy testing. Evaluation of a blood sample can show whether your body is producing excessive amounts of an antibody known as IgE protein. If you are, additional testing can identify the specific venom that's triggering this antibody overproduction.

Unfortunately, there is no current vaccine or other medication to prevent the effects of a sting. That means the only effective strategy for avoiding stings is to avoid stirring up the wrath of these tiny creatures. But if you know you have a stinging insect allergy, your doctor can equip you with an epinephrine injector. This small device lets you inject yourself with potentially life-saving medication to counteract the worst effects of the venom. Always keep your cell phone charged, and be ready to dial 911 for emergency medical assistance.

If you're alarmed by the presence of stinging insects on your property, don't make any move to relocate or exterminate them yourself. Call a qualified professional who can identify the creatures and remove them as safely, carefully and efficiently as possible.

Exercise the proper caution and take steps to protect yourself against a dangerous allergic reaction, from allergy testing and medical readiness to home insect treatment. You'll find that you can indeed coexist with the various insects of this world -- event the stinging ones -- without living in fear or placing your life in danger. Stay safe! For more information, see a website such as http://www.oakbrookallergists.com.