Allergic Reaction to Stings

Insect allergies most frequently occur after a person has been stung by a bee, wasp, yellow jacket, hornet or fire ant. The severity of an insect sting reaction varies from person to person. There are three types of reactions - normal, localized, and allergic:

A normal reaction will result in pain, swelling, and redness around the sting site.
A large local reaction will result in swelling that extends beyond the sting site. For example, a person stung on the ankle may have swelling of the entire leg. While it often looks alarming, it is generally no more serious than a normal reaction.
The most serious reaction to an insect sting is an allergic one (described below). This condition requires immediate medical attention.

What Are The Symptoms?
Symptoms of a severe allergic reaction (called an anaphylactic reaction) may include one or more of the following:
• Difficulty breathing
• Hives that appear as a red, itchy rash and spread to areas beyond the sting
• Swelling of the face, throat or mouth tissue
• Wheezing or difficulty swallowing
• Restlessness and anxiety
• Rapid pulse
• Dizziness or a sharp drop in blood pressure

Although severe allergic reactions are not that common, they can lead to shock, cardiac arrest, and unconsciousness in 10 minutes or less. This type of reaction can occur within minutes after a sting and can be fatal. Get emergency treatment as soon as possible. People who have experienced an allergic reaction to an insect sting have a 60% chance of a similar or worse reaction if they are stung again.

How Common Are Sting Allergies?
About 2 million Americans are allergic to the venom of stinging insects. Many of these individuals are at risk for life-threatening allergic reactions. Approximately 50 deaths each year in the United States are attributed to allergic reactions to insect stings.

How Are Allergic Reactions Treated?
An allergic reaction is treated with epinephrine (adrenaline), either self-injected or administered by a doctor. Usually this injection will stop the development of severe allergic reaction. In some cases, intravenous fluids, oxygen, and other treatments are also necessary. Once stabilized, you are sometimes required to stay overnight at the hospital under close observation. Also, because one dose may not be enough to reverse the reaction, immediate medical attention following an insect sting is still recommended. People who have had previous allergic reactions must remember to carry epinephrine with them wherever they go.

Our allergy hotline is available to answer your questions. For further information please contact:

If you have any further questions please contact our hotline:

Ellen Epstein, M.D. FAAAAI, FACAAI
Adult and Pediatric Allergy
165 N. Village Ave.-Suite 141
Rockville Centre, NY 11570 516-678-0056
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Dr. Ellen Epstein is a Board Certified Adult and Pediatric Allergist in practice since 1986. Dr. Epstein earned her M.D. degree from New York University School of Medicine. She teaches at and is on the staff of Long Island Jewish Medical Center, Franklin Hospital Medical Center and South Nassau Communities Hospital. Dr. Epstein and her staff provide expert professional treatment in a warm and caring atmosphere.


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