The buzz on insect stings: How to avoid being stung & treat a reaction


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There is truly nothing more annoying than hovering insects crashing your summer party. And while many of us will simply walk away with an itchy bug bite, some of us will suffer serious allergic reactions if stung.

According to the National Pest Management Association, most of us will only experience some swelling and soreness, but 3% of the population will suffer more widespread allergic reactions, such as rashes and hives. And those with extreme allergies can experience life-threatening reactions, such as shortness of breath.

The American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology reported that stings from insects send more than half a million people each year to hospitals and cause at least 50 deaths.

“It’s important to understand what we can do to mitigate the health problems these stinging insects present,” said Dr. Jorge Parada, medical representative for the NPMA.

So before you start flailing your arms at your next picnic, the NPMA has some advice when faced with stinging insects:

• Bees and yellow jackets rarely sting unless provoked, while more aggressive species, such as wasps, will sting if they feel threatened. Click here for more types of stinging and biting insects.

• If one parks itself on you, do not swat; instead, gently blow on it.
• If stung, remove the stinger, clean the area with soap and cold water, and apply ice. Benadryl and hydrocortisone ointment can also help.
• If you suffer from an allergic reaction, call 911. Symptoms include tongue and throat swelling; wheezing; dizziness; shortness of breath; drop in blood pressure; fainting; or hives, itching and swelling in areas other than the sting site.
Call a licensed pest professional if you have an infestation, hive or nest on your property.

And if you can avoid a sting in the first place, all the better. The ACAAI suggests the following tips:

• Keep food covered when eating outdoors.
• Try to avoid drinking beverages outside. Stinging insects are attracted to beverages.
• Cover garbage cans with lids.
• Avoid wearing sweet-smelling perfumes, hair sprays, colognes and deodorants.
• Avoid wearing brightly colored clothing.
• Don't walk barefoot in the grass.

In addition, consider contacting an allergist if you suffer from allergic reactions to these insects. An allergist will determine what kind of insect you are allergic to and help you stay safe if you are stung again. There are two kinds of treatment, according to the ACAAI:

• Learn how to use an epinephrine injection to treat a sting.
• You may be a candidate for venom immunotherapy, which involves allergy shots that treat insect sting allergy and may prevent future allergic reactions. Studies show these shots are 97% effective in preventing life-threatening reactions.