Take the Sting Out of Asthma and Insect Allergies

Warm weather means heading to the beach, basking in the sun, or enjoying a hike or bike ride-but along with the outdoor fun come those pesky bugs. And for some asthmatics who have allergies to insect bites, being stung by a bug can have deadly consequences.

Sting Allergy Facts

About three percent of the U.S. population has an allergy to stinging insects, and those with asthma can be especially vulnerable to a serious reaction. The types of stinging insects to watch for include honeybees, bumble bees, sweet bees, yellow jackets, hornets, and wasps.

The problem occurs when these insects sting you and release their venom into your skin, it triggers an immune system response. For some people, the response will be localized to the area where the sting occurred, while for others, the reaction can affect the whole body.

Insect Allergy Symptoms

Some sting allergy symptoms include swelling, itching, and redness at the site of the spot. These are typical and will usually go away pretty quickly.

But if you have a systemic reaction, you may experience more serious symptoms, including dizziness, shortness of breath, a sharp drop in blood pressure, loss of consciousness, or even death.

Steps to Avoid a Sting Allergy Reaction

You don't have to spend the summer indoors or be prepared to run at the sight of every bee or wasp that comes your way. The best way to protect yourself is to take some of the following precautions:

  • Avoid eating outdoors, since food and drinks can attract insects.
  • Cover up your arms and legs as much as possible.
  • Wear shoes outside, even at the beach, so you'll have some protection if you step on an insect.
  • Keep your garbage cans tightly sealed.
  • Forego the perfume, hair spray, and other scented products.
  • Steer clear of brightly colored clothing or those with vibrant patterns that may attract bugs.
  • Remain calm if a stinging insect comes near you. Don't swat at it or wave your arms, since this can encourage it to sting you.
  • Always carry an injectable epinephrine with you.
  • Have your inhaler within reach in case you need it.

Be Prepared

It's also important to talk to your doctor about what to do in the event you do get stung. Remember that everyone's reaction will be different, but it can help to be prepared. Your doctor may recommend that you:

  • Remove the stinger right away. Do not squeeze or put any pressure on the area, which could release more venom into your body and increase your risk.
  • Use your inhaler to try to head off any breathing problems.
  • Take an antihistamine to relieve local symptoms.
  • Seek emergency medical care immediately for a systemic reaction.

Venom Injections as Prevention

You should also talk to your allergist about getting desensitized to stinging insects by using venom injections. Many people with asthma have had success overcoming a stinging insect allergy using this type of long-term immunization therapy. This can be an effective way to head off future reactions.




"Bugging Out: An Examination of Insect-Sting Anaphylaxis." The Asthma Center Educational and Research Fund. The asthmacenter.org, n.d. Web. 13 April 2011.

"Insect Sting Allergy." American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. ACAAI, n.d. Web. 13 April 2011.

"Venom Allergy." Allergy & Asthma Advocate/American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. AAAAI, Summer 2007. Web. 13 April 2011