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Allergies to Insect Bites and Stings

By: Sharon Edge - Updated: 21 Feb 2013 | comments*Discuss
Allergies To Insect Bites allergies To

Managing Allergies to Insect Bites and Stings

In some parts of the world bites and stings from insects can be deadly. Luckily, In the UK, such bites and stings are usually harmless and cause nothing more than irritating itchiness. But for some people, a sting is not just annoying and painful, but can trigger an allergic reaction.

What is an Allergic Reaction?

An allergic reaction happens when your body mistakes a harmless substance for a harmful one. To combat the potential danger, your body produces histamine, which in turn triggers a host of unpleasant symptoms, from sneezing to life-threatening anaphylaxis. The trigger substance that causes the reaction is called an allergen. If you're allergic to insect bites and stings, the allergen is the insect saliva from the bite or the venom from the sting.

Insects to Look out for

The most common biting insects in the UK are midges, flies, mosquitoes, gnats and fleas.You’re most likely to be stung by bees, hornets and wasps.

Treating Insect Bites and Stings

For most people, who aren’t allergic to bites and stings, you can relieve the pain by applying a cold compress or a cream containing a local anaesthetic. You’ll find this in products such as Lanacane and Waspeze. A cream or ointment containing hydrocortisone can help reduce swelling. If you get a lot of bites or stings, you might also consider antihistamine tablets.

If you’re allergic to insect bites and stings, the situation is potentially much more serious. Seek immediate medical attention if:

  • You’ve been stung by several insects at once
  • You’ve been stung in the mouth or throat. Swelling here could interfere with normal breathing
  • You start to have difficulty breathing, a rapid pulse, swelling of the face and neck or any of the other symptoms of anaphylaxis listed below

What is Anaphylaxis?

Anaphylaxis is the most dangerous and extreme kind of allergic reaction. If you know anaphylaxis is a possibility for you, always carry some identification, such as a medic alert bracelet, so the emergency team will know how to treat you if you have an attack. Your doctor might prescribe an adrenaline injection pen for you to carry at all times. A swift injection of adrenalin is the only way to treat this kind of severe allergy. A person having an anaphylactic reaction will have all or some of the following symptoms:
  • Abnormal swelling beyond the immediate area of the sting.
  • Swollen face or lips
  • Itchy skin
  • Itchy or swollen tongue
  • A metallic taste in the mouth
  • Sore and itchy eyes
  • Difficulty breathing
  • A sudden feeling of panic
  • Rash
  • Abdominal pain
  • Vomiting or diarrhoea
  • Faintness
  • Collapse or unconsciousness

Preventing Insect Bites and Stings

If you’re allergic to insect bites and stings, the best thing to do is to avoid them whenever possible. You can reduce your risk by:
  • Wearing good quality insect repellent
  • Sleeping under a mosquito net
  • Wearing long sleeves and trousers in the evening, especially if you’re near water
  • Keeping away from sweet foods and drinks that attract ants and wasps. Never drink from a can of pop that’s been left open in the sunshine – a wasp might have crawled inside

Insect Bites and Stings Abroad

Remember that overseas, insects can be very different from those at home. If you suffer from insect bite or sting allergy, it’s a good idea to talk frankly to your doctor before travelling. A fantastic holiday in a tropical paradise might seem less than wonderful if you’re struck down by an allergic reaction in the middle of nowhere. Your GP will be able to provide you with the latest advice on preventive treatments, including using a quality insect repellent containing DEET and by covering up at the key biting times, such as dusk and dawn.

Once Bitten, Twice Shy

As with all allergies, the key to preventing symptoms is to avoid the allergen. Taking a little extra care, especially in high summer when wasps and bees are about, means that you should be able to carry on as normal, without any problems at all. But, if you are at risk of severe allergic reaction always ensure you’ve got the right medication on you and that the people around you are aware of your condition.

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