Insect Allergy

Overview

Definition

Insect allergies are an abnormal reaction to insects. It may be a reaction to:

  • Bites or stings—causes more severe reaction than normal
  • Presence of bugs in house—bug bodies or debris can cause reactions in some

Reactions can range from mild to severe.

Insect Bites
Nucleus factsheet image
Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

Causes

It is not known what causes allergies to start. An abnormal immune system reaction is what causes the symptoms. Venom from a sting or fluid from a bite may start the reaction.

Common stinging insects linked with allergies include:

  • Honeybees
  • Yellow jackets
  • Hornets
  • Wasps
  • Fire ants

Common biting insects linked with allergies include:

  • Blackflies
  • Fleas
  • Horseflies
  • Mosquitoes
  • Kissing bugs

Insects that leave debris in the house that cause reactions include:

  • Cockroaches
  • Midges
  • Lake flies
  • Caddis flies

These insects can cause reactions all year long. They can also set off asthma.

Risk Factors

Factors that may increase your chance of insect allergies include:

  • History of other types of allergies, including hay fever
  • Family history of allergy
  • Occupations that expose you to insects
  • Living conditions that expose you to insects or dust-containing insect allergens

SymptomsandDiagnosis

Symptoms

Symptoms will depend on the type of allergy.

A bite or sting can cause:

  • Skin rash
  • Hives
  • Itching
  • Swelling
  • Redness
  • Warmth

Stings or bites can cause severe reactions. It is rare but can be deadly. The reaction called anaphylaxis can cause:

  • Skin rash, hives, itching, swelling in areas away from the sting site
  • Swelling of lips, tongue, face, throat, and eyelids
  • Difficulty breathing, shortness of breath, coughing, wheezing
  • Lightheadedness, fainting

Insects that live in the house can cause problems in the respiratory system. In this case, symptoms may include:

  • Runny nose
  • Sneezing
  • Coughing
  • Wheezing
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Shortness of breath

Diagnosis

You will be asked about your symptoms and past health. A physical exam will be done. The doctor may suspect an allergy on how your body reacted to bite or sting. A doctor that specializes in allergies can help.

Tests for an allergy may include:

  • Skin prick test—tiny amounts of allergen are placed on your skin. The doctor will watch the area for a reaction. The test will be done under medical care. They can give fast treatment if there is a severe reaction.
  • Blood test—to look for signs your body has responded to an allergen.

Treatments

Treatment

Some reactions cause trouble breathing. If this is the case, call for emergency medical services right away.

General treatment may include:

  • Epinephrine—medicine for severe reactions. It is injected after a sting when someone has severe allergies. Often called epi-pen.
  • Antihistamine medicine—to decrease swelling and itching.
  • Ice—applied to area of sting or bite. Can help to decrease swelling.
  • Corticosteroid medicine—for more severe swelling, itching, nasal congestion, and sneezing.
  • Bronchodilators—inhaled medicine that can help to treat asthma. Can reduce wheezing, coughing, and shortness of breath.

Allergy shots may help to decrease or stop an allergic reaction. It is done over a series of shots. Each shot has a very tiny amount of insect venom. It allows your body to get use to the venom. May be used for severe allergies to honeybees, yellow jackets, hornets, wasps, or fire ants.

If you have had severe reactions:

  • Carry self-injectable epinephrine and possibly an antihistamine for severe reactions.
  • Possibly carry an antihistamine (talk to your doctor)
  • Wear a medical alert bracelet or necklace. These will inform others of your allergy.

Prevention

There are not steps to keep you from developing allergies. However, you may be able to prevent flare ups. To help reduce risk of insect bite or sting:

  • Try to avoid places where stinging insects are common.
  • Be careful when doing yard or garden work. Beware when hiking in the forest.
  • Avoid walking barefoot.
  • Avoid wearing scented products. Perfumes can attract stinging insects.
  • Keep skin covered in high risk areas.

If you have had an allergic reaction to insects around the home:

  • Avoid having carpeting, curtains, or other fabric that may gather dust in your home. This is very important in the room where you sleep.
  • Vacuum and wet mop your floors often.
  • Wash your linens in hot water.
  • Cover mattresses and pillows in allergy-proof covers.

This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.

Edits to original content made by Denver Health.

RESOURCES

American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology http://www.aaaai.org 

Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians https://www.familydoctor.org 

CANADIAN RESOURCES

About Kids Health—The Hospital for Sick Children http://www.aboutkidshealth.ca 

Health Canada https://www.canada.ca 

References

Allergic rhinitis. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at:  https://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T116217/Allergic-rhinitis#Etiology-and-Pathogenesis . Updated July 9, 2018. Accessed October 1, 2018.

Hymenoptera sting allergy. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at:  http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T114226/Hymenoptera-sting-allergy . Updated April 6, 2017. Accessed October 1, 2018.

Insect sting allergy. American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology website. Available at: http://acaai.org/allergies/types/insect-sting-allergies. Accessed October 1, 2018.

Rank MA, Li JT. Allergen immunotherapy. Mayo Clin Proc. 2007;82(9):1119-1123.

Venom immunotherapy. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at:  https://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T922498/Venom-immunotherapy . Updated June 21, 2018. Accessed October 1, 2018.