Insect allergies are a reaction to insect stings or bites. It can also occur with exposure to such insects in an environment.
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Stinging insects include:
- Yellow jackets
- Fire ants
Biting insects include:
- Kissing bugs
Insects that cause respiratory allergies include:
- Lake flies
- Caddis flies
Are You at Risk?
Factors that increase your chance of insect allergies include:
- Age: young children
- History of other types of allergies, including hay fever
- Family history of allergy
- Occupations that expose you to insects
- Living conditions that expose you to insects or dust-containing insect allergens
Insect Allergy Symptoms
An allergy to biting and stinging insects can affect the area around the bite or sting and cause:
- Skin rash
Some insects cause respiratory allergies that result in:
- Runny nose
- Difficulty breathing
- Shortness of breath
Diagnosing Insect Allergies
Most diagnoses are based on a history of a reaction after a sting. Your doctor will use these tests to diagnose your condition:
- Skin prick test — Your doctor places an extract of the insect's venom or protein on your forearm or back skin. You may have an allergic reaction if there is swelling or redness.
- RAST or ELISA test — Your doctor may order blood tests (RAST or ELISA) to measure the level of insect-specific IgE in your blood. IgE is a type of protein that the body produces when it's exposed to something to which it is allergic. The presence of IgE in the blood may indicate an allergy.
Treatment may include:
- Epinephrine — injected immediately in the event of a severe, life-threatening insect sting allergy (anaphylaxis)
- Antihistamine medications — to decrease swelling and itching
- Ice — applied to local area of sting or bite to decrease swelling
- Corticosteroid medications — for more severe swelling, itching, nasal congestion and sneezing
- Bronchodilators — inhalers that can be used to decrease asthma-like symptoms, such as wheezing, coughing and shortness of breath
- Venom immunotherapy — a series of allergy shots to gradually desensitize you to insect stings; usually for honeybees, yellow jackets, hornets, wasps or fire ants
To reduce your chance of having an allergic reaction to either biting or stinging insects:
- Be very careful when doing yard or garden work. Beware when hiking in the forest.
- Don't walk barefoot.
- Don't wear scented products. Perfumes can attract stinging insects.
- Consider immunotherapy (allergy shots). These can lessen your reaction to stinging insects.
- Carry self-injectable epinephrine and possibly Benadryl for severe reactions.
- Wear a medical alert bracelet or necklace. These will inform others of your allergy.
To reduce your chance of having an allergic reaction to insects that provoke respiratory responses:
- Avoid having carpeting, curtains or other fabric that may gather dust in your home.
- Vacuum and wet mop your floors frequently.
- Regularly wash your linens in very hot water.
- Cover mattresses and pillows in allergy-proof covers.
Make an Appointment
Call us at 434.243.3675.
Content was created using EBSCO’s Health Library. Edits to original content made by Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia. This information is not a substitute for professional medical advice.