What’s Buzzing? How to Identify Insect Sting Allergy

Insect Sting Allergy Infographic


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

  • Discomfort
  • Pain
  • Redness
  • 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.

More Information on Allergies

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