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Allergic Reactions from Insect Bites

Allergic reactions due to insect bites, rarely occur. Those who have a sensitive skin are susceptible to these reactions.
Nicks J
Last Updated: Apr 22, 2018
Although insects are small, their sting or bite can be painful and cause allergic reactions. Stings of insects like honeybees, wasps, yellow jackets and fire ants can trigger an allergic reaction. However, in most cases, people experience mild allergic reactions from insect bites. Bug or mosquito bites are annoying but rarely do they cause any harm. A bee sting is a nuisance, but occasionally can lead to fatal problems.
This kind of hypersensitive reaction from insect bites differs from person to person. It can be a severe asthma attack or something like facial swelling. Bites from mosquitoes usually give rise to lumps, wheals and swelling that goes away within a day. These are localized reactions that do not need a visit to the doctor for treatment. People who are sensitive to insect bites or those with compromised immune system are at increased risk of developing severe reaction after being stung.
Bee stings often cause mild allergic reactions like redness, moderate swelling, pain, burning sensation, itching around the sting area. If left untreated, a severe allergic reaction is life-threatening and can affect your entire body within a short span of time causing severe damage to your health.
Severe Allergic Reaction (Anaphylaxis)
A severe allergic reaction, also known as anaphylactic reaction, is fatal but uncommon. As the reaction spreads within minutes, urgent medical attention is required. If emergency treatment is delayed , it can lead to unconsciousness and even cardiac arrest. Following are the symptoms:
  • Swelling in the throat or face (swollen lips and eyes)
  • Anxiety and restlessness
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • A rash that spreads beyond the sting site.
  • Rapid pulse
  • Trouble breathing
A severe allergic reaction can also decrease blood pressure. In fact, blood pressure drops sharply to alarmingly low levels. This acute drop in blood pressure can be dangerous from a health standpoint if timely treatment is not given.
Spider bites are harmless, however, in the case of the black widow spider, the bite can be dangerous. In some cases, after the spider bites, blisters may appear on the skin. If proper treatment is not given, it can lead to scarring and skin damage. Spiders such as the brown recluse and the black widow are poisonous and their venom causes a severe allergic reaction that can rapidly spread throughout the body. The person may even die, if he is not treated carefully.
Large Localized Reaction (LLR)
Although not a systemic reaction, experiencing symptoms of LLR can send shivers down the spine. This is because, in this case the affected site does not show few blisters or a small pimple but swelling that spreads extensively and is unlikely to go away within two days. For instance, if a bee stings, somewhere on the hand, the whole arm may appear swollen. An insect biting anywhere on the feet may cause swelling of the entire leg. In general, in LLR the swollen area has a diameter of over 4 inches (approximately 10 cm) and will take atleast 5 days to disappear. Apart from swelling, the affected site may develop a rash and itchy feeling. Research has shown that people who suffered from LLRs in the past have around 4-10% chance of getting a systemic reaction from future stings or bites. Getting LLRs from mosquito bites is said to be a sign of Skeeter Syndrome.
The main goal of the treatment is to reverse the allergic sting reaction and prevent any serious side effects. When an insect stings or bites, it can cause pain. Firstly, rinse the bite site using an antiseptic soap and water. To get relief, you should apply a cloth soaked in cold water or ice cubes on the affected area. Application of ice creates a cold environment around the wound. This helps to narrow down the blood vessels drastically, in turn preventing the venom-contaminated blood from spreading further. Doctors often prescribe antihistamine tablets, as they can subside the swelling and itchiness. Hydrocortisone cream is also used to reduce the swelling. Calamine lotion can also help in this regard. Use of pain killers like acetaminophen (Tylenol) and ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) can also help to reduce discomfort associated with stings.
Aloe vera plant known for its high medicinal value, can also be used to alleviate insect bite pain. Simply applying Aloe vera gel on the affected area immediately reduces the irritation. However, before using this herbal remedy, make sure you wash your sting site with soap and water. You can easily grow Aloe vera plant in your backyard and directly extract the soothing gel from its leaves.
It is observed that bees after stinging leave a stinger (attached with a venom sac) at the stung site. In order to reduce the impact of allergic reaction, it is essential to remove the sac as early as possible. This can be easily done by repeatedly scratching the wound with an object that has a pointed edge such as your credit card or a finger nail.
Severe allergic reactions (anaphylaxis) from stings cannot be treated at home and require immediate hospitalization, wherein the doctor administers a dose of epinephrine intravenously. The doctor might use special medications (like antidotes), so that the venom does not spread to other body parts. Keep in mind that in case of anaphylaxis, delaying the treatment even by a minute or two can prove fatal. If you are prone to allergic reactions from insect bites, then it is necessary to keep a self-administered epinephrine kit in the house. Before going to the doctor, you can use this self-care kit immediately after an insect bite.
The best way to prevent this abnormal immune response from insect bites, is to avoid being stung. Following are the precautionary measures that can be taken:
  • Apply an effective insect repellent.
  • Do not sleep without a mosquito net.
  • Wear long sleeve shirts and pants when playing outdoors in the evenings.
  • Use proper pesticides to keep your house free from flea infestations.
Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is solely for educating the reader. It is not intended to be a substitute for the advice of a medical expert.