5 tips to avoid insect stings

Steer clear of a potential allergic reaction while outside this summer

Wasp on soda can

Image source: Thinkstock

Allergies to insect stings can take the fun out of summer. But knowing how to avoid stinging insects can help alleviate some of the worry and protect against a potentially life-threatening allergic reaction.

About 2 million Americans are allergic to insect stings.

Avoiding insect stings

Allergy & Asthma Network Mothers of Asthmatics (AANMA), a patient education organization for people with allergies, asthma and anaphylaxis, put together these five tips for avoiding stinging insects when you want to spend time outside in the sun.

  • Don’t be mistaken for a flower.
    Wear light-colored clothing and skip flowery perfume. Also, avoid wearing loose clothing that can trap insects between the material and your skin.
  • Keep food and drinks covered.
    Insects like bees and wasps are attracted to sweet drinks, so cover food and drinks to keep out the bugs. Make sure to check your beverage before sipping to make sure no insect is inside your soda can.
  • Picnic as far away from trash cans as possible.
    Trash cans are also very attractive to bees and other insects, so try to stay away from them.
  • When you spot stinging insects, walk away slowly.
    Do not swat at insects, because it could agitate them.
  • Steer clear of fire ant nests.
    Fire ants form mounds of dirt up to 12 inches high and they attack when their home has been disturbed. Wear closed-toed shoes when you are outside and try to avoid stepping on a stinging insect.

If you are stung

If you are stung, watch for signs of a reaction. Allergists say most people who are stung never have anything other than a local reaction at the site of the sting. They might experience mild symptoms at the sting site including:

  • Swelling
  • Redness
  • Warmth
  • Itching

But some people have a more serious reaction and should seek help right away.

“Most allergic reactions will start to occur within a few minutes after a sting,” said Dr. John Villacis, an allergist and immunologist at The Austin Diagnostic Clinic. “The reaction can happen in a number of different ways — systemic itching, coughing or wheezing, swelling, drop in blood pressure, and hives.”

Dr. Villacis says systemic reactions are potentially life-threatening.

“I have seen these reactions progress in a matter of seconds. If someone develops hives after a sting, they are probably having other reaction symptoms, although they may be mild. Because these reactions can progress and may be life-threatening, it is important to seek care immediately,” he said.

After a generalized reaction to an insect sting, follow up with an allergist for an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan. Dr. Villacis says some patients benefit from immunotherapy – allergy shots – which can help you develop a tolerance to the insect sting so any future stings won’t be as severe.

If you know you have an allergy, carry an epinephrine auto-injector with you when you venture out.

“The use of Benadryl or other antihistamine can take at minimum 20 to 30 minutes before it even starts working. That means a person with a history of systemic reactions in the past should be using an epinephrine pen and seeking medical treatment ASAP,” Dr. Villacis said.