This information has been reviewed and approved by Kanao Otsu, MD, MPH and Carah B. Santos, MD (May 2017).
Summary: What’s Buzzing? How to Identify Insect Sting Allergy
Everyone reacts to insect stings, but when is it a severe allergy? Here’s what you need to know.
Most Common Stinging Insects & Where They Live
Honeybees — beehives
Wasps and Hornets — bushes, trees and on buildings
Yellow Jackets — ground, dirt mounds, old logs and walls
Fire Ants — large mounds in open areas
Harvester Ants — soil, moist areas, under wood, rocks, bricks
Don’t approach or disturb the insect nests.
Types of Reactions to Insect Stings
Small Local Reaction
Swelling < 2 inches
Treatment for small local reactions: Pain medicine, cold compress and ice.
Large Local Reaction
Exaggerated redness and swelling
Gradually enlarges over 2 days
Swelling is about 5 inches
Swelling peaks at 48 hours
Treatment for large local reactions: Pain medicine, cold compresses and elevation of sting if on extremity, antihistamines for itchiness.
What Attracts Stinging Insects
Dark Clothing – wear white or light colored clothing. Wear long pants and gloves when outside.
Fragrances – Avoid the use of strong smelling perfume, cologne, hair oil, hair spray and lotions.
Deodorant- Use unscented deodorant.
Sweat – Rinse off perspiration.
Food – Cover food and drinks at outdoor events as much as possible.
Garbage – Cover outside garbage.
Severe allergic reactions to an insect sting can be life-threatening. Call 911 if you experience a severe allergic reaction to an insect sting. Ask your doctor if allergy shots can reduce your risk of recurrent severe reactions.