Bee or Wasp Stings: A NYC Allergist Tells You When to Seek Help

insect venom allergy

[updated August 2019]

The summer is the best time in New York to be outside playing sports: softball, tennis, biking or even going on walks in the park. It’s even great for outdoor picnics if you can find a shady spot without too many annoying insects.

I do see more insect stings to bees, wasps, and hornets during this time of year. Most of the stings are not dangerous- they just hurt! The wasps in particular like food, especially sugary food, so watch out if you drink soda or eat fruits as that will attract them. The wasps are much more aggressive than bees; the bees will tend to sting you only if you disturb them by swatting at them, or if you step on them by accident – pardon me, Mr. Bee.

The majority of insect stings in the United States come from wasps, yellow jackets, hornets, and honeybees. The red or black imported fire ant now infests more than 260 million acres of the southern United States and maybe the number one agent of insect stings.

Common Reactions to Insect Stings

The most common reaction from an insect sting is a local, painful swelling where the sting occurred. There is no good place to be stung, but the head, face, and fingers tend to be very painful.

Mild Reactions to Insect Stings or Bites

  • Minor pain
  • Redness
  • Pimple-like-spots
  • Mild to moderate swelling
  • Warmth
  • Itching

What to Do If You Are Stung

If you are stung, quickly check to see if the stinger is still in place; if it is, use tweezers or your nail to “scrape” it away – never pinch the sac and then lift up- this just injects more venom into your body.

After the stinger is removed or if you don’t see it, apply ice immediately to the area. This will slow the absorption of the venom to other areas of your body, it will also prevent a large local swelling.

The next step would be to use an antihistamine: Claritin or Benadryl both have fast-acting preparations and will help. If the local swelling is quite large, you may need topical and oral cortisone to decrease the swelling.

When to Seek Medical Help for an Insect Bite or Sting

When should you seek medical attention for a sting: if at any time you develop hives all over your body (away from the sting site), or you are short of breath or wheezing; if you feel faint or feel confused. These are all signs of a general reaction which require immediate medical attention.

Symptoms of Severe Reactions

Severe reactions typically include two or more of the following:

  • Itching
  • Hives
  • Swelling in the throat or tongue
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Dizziness
  • Stomach cramps
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Rapid fall in blood pressure which results in shock and loss of consciousness

The smartest move would be to go to your closest ER and tell them you’ve been stung. After assessing you, they should give you an injection of epinephrine (adrenalin) which is over 90% of the time will reverse the reaction.

After you been stabilized and sent home, you should make an appointment with an allergist to find out if you are allergic to any bees, hornets or wasps. The testing is important because in people highly allergic to insect stings a future sting could be worse or fatal.

When to Follow Up with an Allergist

About 2 million Americans have allergies to the venom of stinging bugs. For a small number of people with venom allergy, insect stings can be life-threatening. And people who have experienced an allergic reaction to an insect sting have a 60% chance of a similar or worse reaction if stung again.

If you have suffered severe reaction symptoms then you should see an allergist as you may be allergic to insect venom.

There is proven, long-term treatment for insect sting allergies. Allergy immunotherapy protects against insect stings by helping the body learn to tolerate the venom from the insect. It is a highly effective treatment that prevents future allergic reactions to insect stings.

At Mitchell Medical Group, we utilize sublingual immunotherapy to help people who suffer from an insect bite and sting allergies to overcome their allergies.

– Dr. Dean Mitchell, M.D.
Mitchell Medical Group, NYC


About the Author – Dr. Dean Mitchell, M.D. dr dean mitchell smartest doctor in the room podcast

Dr. Dean Mitchell,M.D. is a Board Certified Allergist and Immunologist based out of NYC. He graduated from the Sackler School of Medicine and completed training at the Robert Cooke Allergy Institute in New York City. He is also a Clinical Assistant Professor at Touro College of Osteopathic Medicine, a fellow of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology, and the author of Dr. Dean Mitchell’s Allergy and Asthma Solution: The Ultimate Program for Reversing Your Symptoms One Drop at a Time. Dr. Dean Mitchell, M.D. has also been featured in The New York Times, The Huffington Post, Fitness Magazine, Dr. Oz and News NY 1. Dr. Mitchell also hosts the podcast The Smartest Doctor in the Room – a combination of a lively, personal and in-depth interview with top healthcare specialists.

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photo courtesy of Umberto Salvagnin

References:

Stinging Insect Allergy, American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology. https://www.aaaai.org/conditions-and-treatments/library/allergy-library/stinging-insect-allergy

Insect Sting Allergy, American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology.  https://acaai.org/allergies/types/insect-sting-allergy

Are You Allergic to Insect Stings, WebMD.com. https://www.webmd.com/allergies/insect-stings#1

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