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Insect Sting Allergy (Ant, Wasp and Bee Stings)

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This information was reviewed and approved by Kanao Otsu, MD, MPH (3/31/2019).

What is an insect sting allergy? 

Most people think of bees or wasps when talking about stinging insects. Ants, hornets and yellow jackets are insects that also sting. These insects actually inject venom into your body, and an insect sting allergy is an allergy to that venom.

The most common reaction to an insect sting is a localized reaction. This is when the area around the sting becomes red and swollen.

An allergy to insect venom can be life-threatening.  A systemic allergic reaction (also called anaphylaxis) can occur in some people. Insects that sting are members of the order of Hymenoptera of the class Insecta. Stinging insects of concern are found in three families:

  • Wasps and Hornets (Vespidae): Yellow jackets (which are wasps), yellow hornets, white-faced hornets and paper wasps all sting.

  • Bees (Apidae): Honeybees are the most frequent stinging insect. Bumblebees cause significantly fewer reactions, but both types of bees sting.

  • Ants (Formicidae): Fire ants, harvester ants, bulldog ants and jack jumper ants are all stinging insects. Harvester ant stings are painful, but are a less common cause of a severe reactions, called anaphylaxis. Stings from red imported fire ants (RIFA) are known to cause severe allergic reactions in their habitat in the southeastern U.S. and along the Gulf Coast. They characteristically bite to attach themselves to their victim and then sting multiple times in a semicircular pattern, with a sterile pustule forming at each sting site after several hours.

There have been isolated case reports of systemic allergic reactions to bites from deer flies, kissing bugs, bedbugs and mosquitoes, but such reactions are rare. More common are large local reactions to these bites that, although unpleasant, are not life-threatening.

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