Allergic reactions to bug bites range from mild to life threatening. The most severe reaction, anaphylaxis, needs immediate emergency care, as it can be fatal within minutes. Three to four more people die each year in the US from being stung by insects than by snake bites. Knowing which bug bites you are allergic to and what to do if you are bitten or stung is an essential part of good health.
A mild reaction to a bug bite or sting can include localized redness and pain. Swelling will be minor, less than two inches in diameter. Localized itching can also occur.
Severe bug bite allergies produce symptoms that can be life-threatening. Such reactions occur in approximately 5 percent of the population. Symptoms include swelling of the face and throat, difficulty with breathing, stomach pain, vomiting, low blood pressure, fainting, seizures and shock.
Common Insect Allergies
U.S. emergency rooms treat more than 500,000 patients annually for reactions to insect stings. The most commonly seen stings in the U.S. include those of bees, wasps and hornets, but stings vary per insect populations in different areas of the nation. Fire ants, for example, are common in the 260 million acres they inhabit across the Southern states.
If the reaction is mild, move to a different area so you don’t risk being stung or bitten again. If the stinger remains in the skin, carefully remove it and wash the bitten area with soap and warm water to reduce the chance of infection. Apply ice to reduce swelling. Use a baking soda-and-water paste on the skin several times a day to reduce swelling. Use an antihistamine such as Benadryl as needed for symptoms. Read the label and follow proper dosage amounts.
For severe reactions that include nausea, stomach cramping, diarrhea or swelling that is larger than 2 inches in diameter, seek prompt medical attention. If you experience difficulty breathing, swelling of the face, vomiting, fainting, hives, swelling of lips or swelling of the tongue, call for emergency medical care immediately.
If you have a severe allergy, carry an epi-pen with you at all times. These are available through prescription by your doctor. Following a bite or sting, place the epi-pen directly against your skin and push a button. This inserts a preloaded syringe and delivers medication to combat your allergic reaction. Your doctor or pharmacist will instruct you in its use. Bugs can be found just about anywhere, so carry it with you at all times. Also instruct family members in the epi-pen’s use in the event you are unable to inject yourself during a severe reaction to a bite.
While you cannot prevent an allergic reaction once bitten or stung, you can take steps to avoid being bitten. Cover your arms and legs with clothing when you go outside. Wear socks and closed-toe shoes. Avoid areas that are known for insects. At the first sign of insects, move to a different area.