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Insect Sting Allergy

Insect Sting Allergies occur when the venom from an insect sting is mistakenly recognized as an allergen by the body’s immune system, leading to an allergic reaction.
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Common insect stings in Singapore come from yellow jackets, hornets, wasps, and honey bees. After stinging human’s skin, the insects leave behind their stingers. The stingers are best removed by a scraping action, rather than a pulling motion to prevent further squeezing of more venom into the affected skin.

The body’s immune system reacts differently towards insect stings. Reactions can range from simple painful swelling and redness to severe life-threatening conditions such as anaphylaxis. A person who has experienced an allergic reaction to insect sting has a 40-60% chance of a similar or even more severe reaction for each subsequent sting.

Picture of an insect sting

What are the Symptoms of AN Insect Sting Allergy?

Most people sustain localized pain, redness, and swelling over the affected area of an insect sting.

In the case of an Insect Sting Allergy, the immune system overreacts to the sting, leading to possible symptoms of anaphylaxis with symptoms involving more than one body system such as:

  • Difficult breathing, wheezing
  • Facial, eye, lip, throat, tongue swelling
  • Hoarseness of voice, coughing
  • Dizziness, feeling of fainting, drop in blood pressure
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea
  • Large areas of body itch and hives
  • Loss of consciousness, cardiac arrest

Insect stings can also cause a toxic reaction. This is not an allergic reaction, rather, the body perceives the insect venom as a poison. Having said that, both toxic reaction and allergy reaction from insect stings can cause similar symptoms in the affected person. In a severe toxic reaction, one can have fainting spells, shock, seizure, or even succumb to the reaction.

What do I expect when I consult my doctor for AN Insect Sting Allergy?

Your doctor will obtain a thorough history of your current and previous stings. It will be useful to inform your doctor about how many stings you have had, the reactions from the stings, and how long the reaction lasted in the past. In certain circumstances, your doctor may offer skin prick tests or blood tests to an insect venom panel.

What are the Treatment Options for Insect Stings Allergy?

It is important to avoid contact with insects in the first place. If you are allergic to insect stings, take precautionary measures against this.

Anaphylaxis and Immediate Treatment
If you have an anaphylactic reaction, please ask for help and call 995 as you will need immediate medical attention. This can be life-threatening. Immediate epinephrine injection can be life-saving. Aside from delivering epinephrine, other emergency medications include antihistamine, corticosteroids, intravenous fluids, and oxygen. Anaphylaxis patients usually need to be admitted to the hospital overnight for observation.

Long Term Treatment with Venom Immunotherapy
This is a form of long term management. It is a procedure done by trained doctors or allergists by the gradual introduction of incremental venom doses to a person. This is with the theory of repeated exposure to the venom will reduce a person’s immune system sensitivity towards the venom, hence reducing the risk of a future allergic reaction.

Immunotherapy in the form of allergy shots is introduced to build tolerance and 97% protection against the future sting. This therapy is particularly useful to those who are active outdoor individuals for both recreational activities or work-related activities.

How can I avoid Insect Sting?

Most insect stings in Singapore are from yellow jackets, hornets, honey bees, wasps.

  • Yellowjackets are insects with black and yellow markings, usually found in the ground, woodpiles, and in the walls. 
  • Honey bees have fuzzy round bodies with dark brown and yellow markings. They can be found in trees, near old-tires. 
  • Hornets are brown or black with orange, yellow, or white markings. Wasps have a slender body with black, brown, red, and yellow markings. Hornet and wasps usually live in bushes, trees, and on buildings.

Here are some tips for sharing:

  • Be cautious when working or playing in these outdoor areas.
  • Avoid open rubbish cans or bins, exposed food during a picnic, as this can attract yellow jackets.
  • Do not drink open beverage cans as stinging insects can be attracted by beverage and hide inside.
  • Wear protective coverage clothing when outdoor.
  • Avoid barefoot, wearing sandals, or slippers when walking in the grass.
  • Do not swat flying insects.
  • Avoid sweet-smelling perfumes, sprays, colognes, deodorants, as you may be mistaken by the insects as a flower.
  • Avoid bright-coloured clothing.
  • When gardening, ensure proper protective socks and shoes and hand gloves are used.
  • Keep the window or door near the outfield close.
  • Do not disturb the insect’s home or nests. You should hire a trained exterminator to remove insect homes or nests
  • Stay calm and quiet and slowly move away from stinging insects.
  • Imperatively, have standby emergency epinephrine medication, if you are known for the allergy.

Once stung, twice shy! Be careful, and avoid insect stings! Take care!

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