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  • Insect Stings and Bites: Is It an Allergy?

  • Horror stories about allergic reactions to stings and bites breed fear of summertime insects. The reality is that less than 0.4 percent of people are severely allergic to insect stings, and most allergic reactions are not life threatening.

    Normal reactions to insect stings include itching, redness and swelling at or near the site of the bite or sting. Symptoms can range from mildly uncomfortable, as in the case of most mosquito bites, to very uncomfortable, as in the case of a wasp sting which may cause an arm to swell and ache. As long as the symptoms are confined to the general area surrounding the bite or sting, the reaction is not considered severe.

    Treat the bite or sting with an over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream or a homemade paste of baking soda and water to reduce the itch. For more uncomfortable side effects, such as swelling or aching, try an over-the-counter antihistamine. Be sure to follow dosage directions. If symptoms don't begin to subside in a day, contact your physician for treatment advice.

    Symptoms of a severe allergic reaction usually occur within minutes of a sting or bite and may include:

    • Itching or swelling in places other than the site of the sting or bite.
    • Swelling of the tongue
    • Difficulty breathing or talking
    • Dizziness
    • Chest pain
    • Unconsciousness

    If you suspect an allergic reaction you should seek medical help immediately.

    If you have had a severe reaction to an insect bite or sting you should carry a bee sting kit, which usually includes an antihistamine pill and an epinephrine self-injection. Always seek immediate medical attention after using an epinephrine injection.

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