Picnickers, hikers, gardeners and outdoor sportsmen all over Colorado have to contend with stings by yellow jackets, yellow hornets, wasps and honeybees. These stings can cause reactions ranging from minor irritation, to serious allergic or toxic reactions. More than 1 million Americans report allergic reactions to insect stings; about 50 people each year die from the stings.
Here are some tips to help take the sting out of summer:
Protect yourself when you go outdoors. Wear long pants and long sleeves while hiking or mowing the lawn, and gloves for gardening. Also trade your sandals for shoes and socks.
Color matters. Wear white or light-colored clothing; dark clothing or clothing with flowery designs is more likely to attract insects.
The less you smell the better. Scents can attract insects, so use an unscented deodorant and avoid strong perfume, cologne, scented hair products or lotions. Rinse off perspiration after vigorous exercise. Use insect repellents. And don't forget to cover food that is left out and the garbage as well. If you are drinking a soft drink from a can and there are stinging insects in the area make sure to check the can before you take a sip.
Treat the sting based on your history. If you have no history of allergic reactions, take an analgesic for pain and use ice or a cold compress to reduce the swelling. If you have previously experienced minor reactions consisting of swelling at the site of the sting take the appropriate dose of an antihistamine syrup or chewable tablet and monitor your symptoms carefully. If the reaction progresses to involve symptoms distant from the sting site such as hives, generalized itching, flushing, nausea, vomiting, dizziness or difficulty breathing call 911 and get help immediately.
If you have had a serious allergic reaction, you should be evaluated and treated by an allergist because allergen immunotherapy to insect venom is effective and could save your life. Once you have been diagnosed with insect sting allergy you should wear a bracelet that identifies your sensitivity, learn to give yourself injections of epinephrine, and keep epinephrine and antihistamines on hand at all times for immediate treatment while seeking emergency medical care.
This information has been approved by Dan Atkins, MD (June 2009).