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Being stung by a bee or wasp can be irritating and painful. You might see a red bump that itches or swells and causes discomfort. Insect bites and stings can be more problematic if you’re allergic to the venom in an insect bite. This means your body is hypersensitive to the venom. You might have a more serious reaction, such as:
Anaphylaxis is a life-threatening condition that can develop if you’re stung by an insect to which you’re severely allergic. You will need immediate medical treatment, either self-administered or in a healthcare setting. An allergy to insect venom can develop at any time in your life. It’s more common in men than in women, and more common in adults than in children.
If you think you may be allergic to insect stings, visit an allergist to get the diagnosis and treatment you need.
Your doctor can perform tests that will determine if you’re allergic to insect stings. The most common types of venoms that your doctor will test for are:
There are several ways that your doctor will test for insect sting allergies.
Your doctor may perform a skin test, because your skin often produces visible reactions to the venom.
During a skin test, your doctor will clean an area of skin on your arm or back with an alcohol wipe. Then your doctor will place extracted venom from the insect in question on your skin and cover it. The test usually takes 15 minutes. If the following reactions occur, you may be allergic:
Your doctor may also test you for other kinds of insect sting allergies. Because you can have severe reactions to this test, your doctor will probably have you wait for up to 30 minutes after the test to be sure you don’t have a severe or anaphylactic reaction.
If the results are inconclusive, you doctor may perform another skin test by placing the insect venom under the top layer of your skin. If you do have a skin test, make sure to talk to your doctor about any skin conditions you may have. The skin test may not work well if you have eczema. Your doctor may also ask you to refrain from taking any antihistamines or allergy medication 48 hours before the test.
Sometimes a skin test isn’t conclusive. If that’s the case, or if your doctor wants further confirmation, they may perform a blood test. If you are allergic to the venom in an insect sting, your body is hypersensitive to the venom and produces an antibody in response. The antibody is a type of immunoglobulin E (IgE) protein. High levels of this protein in your blood can indicate an allergy. Your doctor may give you a blood test called a radioallergosorbent test (RAST) that determines the amount of particular IgE antibodies in your blood.
During this test, your doctor will take a small sample of your blood. They will send the sample to a lab to analyze the IgE antibodies in your blood. If you have high levels of IgE, you may be allergic to a particular insect’s venom. It can take a few days to get the results from this kind of test. It’s also somewhat safer than the skin test because there’s no risk of having an allergic reaction. If you’ve had an X-ray or taken radioactive dyes within seven days of this test, the results may not be valid.
If the results of your skin or blood test come back negative, you are not allergic to the insect sting. If the test results are positive, you are allergic to the insect sting and should work closely with your doctor on prevention and treatment. Your doctor will make a diagnosis based on your test results, medical history, and symptoms. They may want to give you other tests to rule out any other possible conditions.
Your doctor can suggest ways to avoid triggering your insect sting allergy. For example, you’ll want to avoid places where there are bees, wasps, or hornets.
Your doctor may also prescribe other treatment, including:
If you’re allergic to insect stings, you may have a life-threatening reaction if you’re stung. Your doctor can give you skin or blood tests to diagnose your allergy. If your tests are positive, your doctor may prescribe medications or therapy as treatment. They may also prescribe an epinephrine shot for you to carry with you to use in case you are stung. If you’re diagnosed with an insect venom allergy, you’ll want to be very careful to avoid places where there are bees, wasps, or hornets. Keep your doctor advised of any reactions or symptoms you have.
Written by: Tricia Kinman
Medically reviewed on: Aug 11, 2016: Deborah Weatherspoon, PhD, RN, CRNA, COI
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