• Reviewed on 6/12
    By Dr. Tinkelman

Insect Sting Allergy: Overview

Although less common than pollen allergy, insect venom allergy is anything but trivial - it can be life-threatening. The primary offenders are most often insects that sting rather than those that bite. These insects are members of the order of Hymenoptera of the class Insecta. Stinging insects of concern are found in three families:

  • Vespids (Vespidae): Including yellow jackets, hornets, and wasps.

  • Bees (Apidae): Honeybees are the most frequent offenders with bumblebees causing significantly fewer reactions. Sweatbees infrequently cause allergic reactions.

  • Ants (Formicidae): Including fire ants and Harvester ants. Although painful, Harvester ant stings are a less common cause of anaphylaxis. Imported fire ant stings are known to cause systemic (whole body) 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 after several hours at each sting site.

There have been isolated case reports of systemic allergic reactions to bites from deer flies, kissing bugs, bed bugs 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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