Take the Bite out of Insect Stings

Lazy, hazy days of summer may bring relaxation and recreation for many – but for insects in our midst, it’s time to pick up the pace, build nests and reproduce. And woe to those who get in the way of their stingers!

Allergy & Asthma Network Mothers of Asthmatics (AANMA), the leading patient education organization for people with allergies, asthma and anaphylaxis, offers five tips for families seeking fun in the summer sun.

If you know you’re going to be in stinging insect territory – whether in the woods, at the beach, or the local park, Tonya Winders, AANMA’s Chief Operating Officer and mother of five recommends:

  • Wear light-colored clothing and skip flowery perfume, so bees don’t mistake you for a flower

  • Keep food and drinks covered – and check before sipping to make sure no insect is inside your pop can

  • Picnic as far away from trash cans as possible

  • If you do find bees or yellow jackets flying around you, walk away slowly; do not swat at them

  • When in Southern states, steer clear of fire ant nests: mounds of dirt up to 12 inches high

“I am allergic to fire ants myself,” says Winders, who has lived in fire ant territory for years, “so I always carry two epinephrine auto-injectors. Fortunately, I’ve not had to use them.”

“Most people who are stung never have anything more than a local reaction – swelling, itching and irritation at the site of the sting,” says Waterbury, CT, allergist Christopher Randolph, MD, a member of AANMA’s Anaphylaxis Community Expert (ACE) program and co-author of the Joint Task Force on Insect Sting Guidelines. “However, if you experience a generalized reaction, such as hives (a rash) apart from the sting site, or any difficulty breathing, stomach upset, rapid heartbeat, or dizziness, seek medical help immediately. Use auto-injectable epinephrine, if available, and get follow-up care as soon as possible. Don’t wait to see what happens, as anaphylaxis (a life-threatening allergic reaction) can progress very quickly. Once at the ER, patients should be observed for at least 4 hours, since symptoms can recur.”

Randolph says everyone who experiences a generalized reaction to an insect sting should see a board-certified allergist for an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan, often including immunotherapy (allergy shots).

“Immunotherapy is proven to help develop a tolerance to insect sting, so if you are stung again your symptoms will be mild or non-existent,” explains Randolph. “We recommend it for anyone who experiences a generalized, or systemic, reaction and whose subsequent allergy tests are positive for sting. Many people shy away from allergy shots because of the discomfort and inconvenience, but a few years of treatment will give you a lifetime without fear.”

Have questions about anaphylaxis?

Your local Anaphylaxis Community Expert is available to help! Dr. Sanjay Khiani with Family Allergy Asthma & Sinus Care provides free educational programs about anaphylaxis diagnosis, prevention and treatment. To request a presentation, contact Dr. Khiani at: 704-817-2022.


Allergy & Asthma Network Mothers of Asthmatics (AANMA) is the leading national nonprofit organization dedicated to ending needless death and suffering due to asthma, allergies and related conditions. AANMA specializes in sharing family-friendly, medically accurate information through its award-winning publications Allergy & Asthma Today magazine and The MA Report newsletter, its web site at www.aanma.org and numerous community outreach programs. Follow AANMA on Facebook at facebook.com/AANMA and on Twitter at twitter.com/AANMA.

About Anaphylaxis Community Experts (ACE)

The national, award-winning Anaphylaxis Community Experts (ACE) program is developed by Allergy & Asthma Network Mothers of Asthmatics (AANMA) in partnership with the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (ACAAI), sponsored by Mylan Specialty, LP. http://www.aanma.org/anaphylaxiscommunityexperts