Normal vs. Allergic Reactions to Bug Bites and Stings

May 17, 2023

It is extremely common to experience symptoms from the venom of stinging insects like bees, wasps, yellow jackets, hornets, or fire ants. Most people display minor symptoms that are merely uncomfortable and inconvenient. But severe allergic reactions to insect stings can be extremely painful and dangerous, and may even cause death.

Here’s how you can identify an insect sting, how to tell the difference between a major and minor allergic reaction, how to treat stings at home, and when to seek medical care. For same-day seasonal allergy care, visit AFC Urgent Care Paramus.

Different types of reactions to bites/stings and their symptoms

There are three types of reactions to insect stings, ranging in severity. The first is a normal reaction, which typically involves pain, swelling, itching, and redness around the site of the sting or bite. The second type is a large local reaction. This involves swelling and redness extending beyond the sting site. For example, a bite or sting on the hand may cause swelling of the entire arm. Although this may look concerning, they are usually no more serious than a normal reaction. Large local reactions may continue swelling and spreading for up to 48 hours and then gradually recede over the course of 5 to 10 days.

The third type of reaction is the most serious, an allergic reaction. An allergic reaction may cause pain, redness, pimple-like spots or rash, swelling, a warming sensation, and itching at the site of the sting. A severe allergic reaction, also called an anaphylactic reaction, is uncommon and requires emergency medical treatment. The symptoms include difficulty breathing or swallowing, hives (a red, itchy rash) that extend to areas beyond the site of the sting, anxiety, rapid pulse, dizziness, a sharp drop in blood pressure, stomach cramps, nausea, or diarrhea.

Treatment options for adverse reactions

If you are not allergic to insect venom, there are many ways you can treat an insect bite or sting at home safely. Insects often leave a stinger behind, so first check the site of the sting to remove the stinger. You may need to use tweezers or a stiff object like a credit card to get the stinger out of your skin. If you remove the stinger within 30 seconds, you can reduce the amount of venom that enters your skin.

Remove any rings or other restrictive jewelry/clothing at the site of the sting, and wash the area with soap and water. Apply an antiseptic, followed by a soothing ointment like calamine lotion or hydrocortisone cream. Then cover the area with a bandage.

If you experience swelling, you can apply a cold compress to the area. You may also take an over-the-counter antihistamine or ibuprofen to alleviate itching and swelling. Children under the age of 2 years old and pregnant women should not take this medication unless directed by a doctor.  Severe allergic reactions such as anaphylaxis require an epinephrine shot and emergency medical treatment. If you have an epinephrine pen, administer the injection before calling 911. If you have ever had an allergic reaction to an insect sting, carry epinephrine with you at all times.

Benefits of visiting an urgent care for non-life-threatening allergy relief

Although a large local reaction may be treatable at home, it is easily confused with an infection, which requires medical treatment. If you have anything other than a normal allergic reaction to an insect bite or sting, you may want to visit an urgent care center.

The doctor can distinguish between an infection and a large local reaction and can prescribe medication or treatment for either condition. They may also be able to administer allergy testing to determine whether you need to carry epinephrine in the future. An emergency room visit is always necessary in the case of severe allergic reaction or anaphylaxis. For acute allergy relief, visit AFC Urgent Care Paramus today!

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