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Symptoms and Signs of Allergy: Insect Sting

Doctor's Notes on Allergy: Insect Sting

Insect stings to which some individuals are allergic include bees, hornets, wasps, yellow jackets and fire ants. Allergic individuals may develop signs and symptoms that range from mild to severe; mild symptoms may include itching, pain and swelling beyond the area of the sting; it may slowly increase over the next few hours. Severe allergic reactions are a medical emergency – call 911; signs and symptoms include a rapid occurrence, sometimes within minutes, of hives and/or swelling in major body parts like the face, head, neck, arms, hands, legs, or feet. Nausea, vomiting or diarrhea may occur. Difficulty breathing, dizziness and/or fainting, chest pain and tachycardia with a low blood pressure suggests the patient is in anaphylactic shock; if it continues, the patient can die.

The cause of allergic reactions to insect stings is an over reaction of the body’s response to the stinger or venom (most likely a protein component) it interprets as a foreign substance. Part of the allergic response is the release of histamine that helps mediate the body’s response to foreign substances; too much can participate in producing an anaphylactic reaction (shock).

Medical Author:
Medically Reviewed on 3/11/2019


Kasper, D.L., et al., eds. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 19th Ed. United States: McGraw-Hill Education, 2015.