Dr. Ajay KohliDec 11, 2023
Insect stings are one of the most common causes of life-threatening, severe allergic reactions. This article discusses the different types of insect bites and their respective symptoms so that you can take timely action if needed.
In general, when an insect stings a person, the following allergic symptoms are seen.
Swelling (around the sting and sometimes in other nearby areas)
Anaphylaxis, a rare reaction, where the sting can lead to a life-threatening reaction that can impair breathing and lead the person into shock.
Venoms from stinging insects such as bees, wasps and ants are one of the most common causes of severe allergic reactions (anaphylaxis). Symptoms vary depending on the type of insect that has stung, such as bees, wasps, ticks, ants, spiders, etc.
Bees and wasps
Honey Bee stings are the most common cause of allergic reactions in certain countries, such as Australia. Bees can sting only once because they inject a sac full of venom into our skin and then die once it empties. Unlike bees, wasps can sting several times.
A wasp sting can cause a sudden, sharp pain at first. It may leave a swollen red mark on your skin, which can last for a few hours, the sting may be painful and itchy. Sometimes the area around the wasp stung can turn red, a minor allergic reaction. It is not problematic and may last up to a week at the most.
A bee sting is like a wasp sting; however, the sting will often be left in the wound. It needs to be removed carefully. The sting can cause pain, redness, and swelling for a few hours.
Ticks live on vegetation and attach and bite into the skin of people and animals. If you cause any disturbance to the tick attached to the skin, it can release saliva into the skin, which causes allergic reactions in some people. Sometimes, tick bites can lead to potentially serious infections, like Lyme disease, and therefore, should be removed as soon as possible. Tick bites are not very painful, and you may notice the bite a little later if it detaches and falls off your skin.
Symptoms of a tick bite can include the following.
Minor redness and itching
A small lump on the skin
Severe allergic reaction
Also Read: First Aid for Tick Bites
Bedbug bites are mostly found on the face, neck, hands, or arms. The bites are visibly found in straight lines across the skin. The bites are not usually painful. If you have not been bitten before, you may not experience any symptoms. If you have been bitten before, you may develop itchy red bumps on your skin which can last for several days.
Ant stings and bites
Most ants do not sting or bite, but red ants, wood ants, and flying ants sometimes do. Ant bites and stings are painless, though you may feel a nip and a pale pink mark on your skin. The bitten area may be painful, itchy, and swollen at times.
Mosquito bites frequently cause small red lumps on your skin. These are usually extremely itchy. Some people may develop fluid-filled blisters as well.Generally, mosquitoes do not cause major allergic reactions or harm but sometimes can cause serious illnesses such as malaria and dengue. Symptoms of malarial fever can include elevated temperature, chills, headaches and feeling sick.
Here are some first-aid tips in case of mild reactions.
Move to a safer area to avoid more insect stings or bite.
Carefully remove the sting, tick, or hair.
Wash the affected area with soap and water.
Apply a cold compressor or ice pack over the area of the sting for at least 10 minutes.
If the sting was on the arm or leg, elevate the injured area.
Avoid scratching the area or you may burst the blisters which may lead to any infections (always keep your fingernails short, to avoid any probable future adverse events).
Avoid any traditional home remedies such as applying baking soda to the affected area.
Take a non-prescription pain reliever as needed.
Take an anti-itch medicine (antihistamine) by mouth to reduce itching.
The symptoms and the discomfort subside usually within a day or two in case of mild reactions.
Seek medical advice in the following cases
When your symptoms do not improve within few days or start to get worse
When you have been stung or bitten in your mouth or throat, or near your eyes
If the swollen area of sting increases in diameter
If the sting seems to turn into a wound infection, such as pus or increasing pain, swelling or redness
If you develop fever or flu-like symptoms
Seek immediate medical attention when a person is having a severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis).
This severe reaction can be confirmed when you see the following symptoms.
Wheezing or difficulty breathing
Swelling of the lips, face, eyelids, or throat
A fast heart rate
Dizziness or feeling faint
Nausea, vomiting or diarrhoea
Hives (a skin rash)
Loss of consciousness
Keep a record of your symptoms
Diagnosing an allergy can be difficult. Hence, it is best to keep a personal record of your allergies and carry it with you wherever you go. These can also help you and your health provider to identify the cause of the symptoms.
Details such as symptoms, location, triggers, specific insect, duration, and name of prescribed medications could be included in your personal diary.
If you previously had a reaction to bee stings, this could suggest you might be allergic to bee venom. Your doctor will order for one or both of the following tests.
Skin test: A small amount of insect venom (in this case, bee venom) is injected into your arm or upper back. If you are allergic, you will develop a raised bump at the site of the test.
Allergy blood test: By measuring the number of allergy-causing antibodies in your bloodstream, a blood test can assess your immune system's response to bee venom.
Allergy skin tests and allergy blood tests are often used together to diagnose insect allergies.
An allergic reaction to an insect sting can occur immediately or within four hours. Anaphylaxis, a severe allergic reaction, usually begins within minutes of the insect sting, but it can happen within an hour or later.
Wear protective clothing outside to limit your exposure to bare skin. Wear long pants when hiking or mowing the grass, gloves when gardening, and shoes instead of sandals or going barefoot.
During an anaphylactic attack, the emergency team may perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) if you stop breathing or your heart stops beating. To ease your symptoms, you may be given other medications such as:
Epinephrine (adrenaline) to suppress your body's allergic reaction
Oxygen, to help you breathe
Always carry an emergency pack. Your pack can contain allergy medications such as:
An antihistamine (liquid or chewable tablet)
An epinephrine injection device (if prescribed)
A rescue inhaler if you have asthma.
Disclaimer: The content on this page is generic and shared only for informational and explanatory purposes. Please consult a doctor before making any health-related decisions.
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