Insect stings can be deadly. From an AAAAI.org press release:
MILWAUKEE – Legendary skateboarder Andy Kessler’s death after being stung by an insect earlier this week is a reminder that stings can be deadly for those with stinging insect allergy. According to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (AAAAI.org), up to 5% of Americans are at risk for a severe, potentially life-threatening allergic reaction from insect stings.
Unfortunately, most people are not aware they are allergic to insect stings until after experiencing a reaction. An allergic reaction occurs when the immune system overreacts to the insect venom. When this happens, an allergic person’s body produces an allergic substance called Immunoglobulin E (IgE) antibody, which reacts with the venom. This triggers the release of histamine and other chemicals that cause allergic symptoms and, in the most severe of cases, a rapid fall in blood pressure, loss of consciousness and sometimes even death.
Because a severe and sometimes fatal reaction can occur, it is important to know what common stinging insects look like. The most common stinging insects in the United States include:
• Yellow jackets – black with yellow markings, found in various climates
• Honeybees – a round, fuzzy body covered with dark brown and yellow markings
• Paper wasps – slender, elongated bodies that are black, brown or red and have yellow markings
• Hornets – black or brown with white, orange or yellow markings and are larger than yellow jackets
• Fire ants – reddish-brown ants living in large mounds, mostly in warmer climates
It is also critical for anyone with allergies to insect stings to take precautions to avoid a potentially dangerous reaction. The AAAAI.org recommends the following tips to avoid being stung:
• Avoid the “territory” of the stinging insect’s nest. These insects are most likely to sting if their homes are disturbed.
• Remain calm, quiet and slowly move away from stinging insects. Do not swat them.
• Avoid brightly colored clothing and perfume outdoors that may attract stinging insects.
• Be careful when cooking, eating or drinking sweet beverages outdoors. Keep all food and beverages covered until consuming them.
• Avoid loose-fitting garments that can trap insects between material and the skin.
When to see an allergy specialist: If you have experienced a reaction to insect stings or you think you may be allergic, consult with an allergist/immunologist to accurately diagnose your condition. An allergist/immunologist is the best qualified medical professional trained to manage the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of allergies and asthma.
An allergist might also suggest allergy shots, also known as immunotherapy treatment. Venom immunotherapy shots take effect within just a few months. Venom immunotherapy is the closest thing to a “cure” for allergic reactions. It is shown to be 97% effective in preventing future allergic reactions. Patients should see an allergist/immunologist if they:
• Have reactions possibly due to insect stings for accurate identification of the specific allergen and consideration for immunotherapy (allergy shots).
• Have systemic reactions possibly due to biting insects, for accurate identification of the specific allergen.
• Have an allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) without an obvious or previously defined trigger.
• Have had anaphylaxis attributed to food, drugs or insect stings.