Insect stings usually are minor annoyances. But they can cause serious and
sometimes even deadly reactions in kids who are allergic to them.
Insects that can trigger allergic reactions include honeybees, yellowjackets, hornets,
wasps, and fire ants. When they sting, they inject venom
into the skin.
Allergic reactions to stings usually don't happen when a child is stung for the
first time, but rather when the child is stung for a second time, or even later.
If your child has been diagnosed with an insect sting allergy, keep injectable
epinephrine (a medicine that your doctor can prescribe) on hand in case of a
severe reaction. Share emergency plans with anyone who cares for your child, including
relatives and school officials. Also consider having your child wear a medical alert
Talk with your child's doctor about seeing an allergy specialist to discuss the
possibility of allergy shots.
These can help the body react less to insect venom, which can make a serious reaction
If you think that your child might have had an allergic reaction to an insect sting,
call your doctor, who can help you understand the difference between a typical reaction
and an allergic reaction. The doctor also can see if an insect sting site is infected,
which requires different treatment than an allergic reaction.
If the doctor thinks your child might have an insect sting allergy, you'll probably
be referred to an allergy specialist for testing.
What Happens in an Insect Sting Allergy
When someone is allergic to insect stings, the body's immune system, which normally
fights infections, overreacts to proteins in the insect's venom. When stung, the body
sees these proteins as harmful invaders.
The immune system responds
by working very hard to fight off the invader. This causes an allergic reaction, in
which chemicals like histamine are released in the body. The release of these chemicals
can cause someone to have these symptoms:
a drop in blood
pressure, causing lightheadedness or loss of consciousness
If a stinger remains in the skin, use your fingernail or a credit card to scrape
the stinger from the skin. Removing the stinger quickly can help prevent more venom
from going into the body. Don't use tweezers because they can cause more venom to
Anaphylaxis Is a Life-Threatening Reaction
Insect sting allergies can cause a severe reaction called anaphylaxis.
Anaphylaxis can begin with some of the same symptoms as a less severe reaction, but
these can quickly become worse, leading someone to have trouble breathing or to pass
out. Anaphylaxis that's not treated can be life-threatening.
If your child starts having serious allergic symptoms, like swelling of the mouth
or throat or difficulty breathing, give the epinephrine auto-injector right
away. Every second counts in an allergic reaction. Then call 911 to take
your child to the emergency room. Your child needs to be under medical supervision
because even if the worst seems to have passed, a second wave of serious symptoms
An epinephrine auto-injector comes in an easy-to-carry container about the size
of a large marker or a smartphone. It's simple to use. Your doctor will show you how
to use it. Kids who are old enough can be taught how to give themselves the injection.
School staff should know that your child has an insect sting allergy. Together,
agree on a plan in case of a serious reaction at school, including making sure that injectable
epinephrine is available at all times. If your child is old enough to carry the epinephrine,
it should be in a purse or backpack that's with your child at all times, not in a
Your child's allergy plan also could include giving an over-the-counter antihistamine
for milder allergy symptoms. But the antihistamine should be given after
the epinephrine in the case of a serious, life-threatening reaction.
Insect Sting Allergy Safety Tips
The best way to prevent allergic reactions to insect stings is to avoid getting
stung in the first place. Teach your child to:
Avoid walking barefoot while on the grass.
Avoid playing in areas where insects like to be, such as flower beds.
Avoid drinking from open soda or juice cans and be sure to keep food covered when
eating outside. Check for insects in drink cups and straws when outside.
Remain calm and quiet around stinging insects. Moving slowly, back away without
any arm-waving or swatting.
Never disturb an insect nest. Have an exterminator get rid of nests near your
When in wooded areas, keep as covered up as possible. Long-sleeved shirts, long
pants, socks, and closed-toe shoes can help keep the bugs away. (Loose clothing can
allow insects to get between the clothes and skin.)
Avoid perfumes, scented body products, and brightly colored and flowered clothing
because they all attract insects.