Take the Bite Out of Insect Stings
Lazy, hazy days of summer may bring relaxation and recreation for many – but for insects in our midst, it's time to pick up the pace, build nests and reproduce. And woe to those who get in the way of their stingers!
Allergy & Asthma Network Mothers of Asthmatics (AANMA), the leading patient education organization for people with allergies, asthma and anaphylaxis, offers five tips for families seeking fun in the summer sun.
If you know you're going to be in stinging insect territory – whether in the woods, at the beach or the local park, Tonya Winders, AANMA's Chief Operating Officer and mother of five, recommends:
>>Wear light-colored clothing and skip flowery perfume, so bees don't mistake you for a flower
>>Keep food and drinks covered – and check before sipping to make sure no insect is inside your soda can
>>Picnic as far away from trash cans as possible
>>If you do find bees or yellow jackets flying around you, walk away slowly; do not swat at them
>>When in Southern states, steer clear of fire ant nests: mounds of dirt up to 12 inches high
"I am allergic to fire ants myself," says Winders, who has lived in fire ant territory for years, "so I always carry two epinephrine auto-injectors. Fortunately, I've not had to use them."
"Most people who are stung never have anything more than a local reaction – swelling, itching and irritation at the site of the sting," says Waterbury, CT, allergist Christopher Randolph, MD, a member of AANMA's Anaphylaxis Community Expert (ACE) program and co-author of the Joint Task Force on Insect Sting Guidelines. "However, if you experience a generalized reaction, such as hives (a rash) apart from the sting site, or any difficulty breathing, stomach upset, rapid heartbeat, or dizziness, seek medical help immediately. Use auto-injectable epinephrine, if available, and get follow-up care as soon as possible. Don't wait to see what happens, as anaphylaxis (a life-threatening allergic reaction) can progress very quickly. Once at the ER, patients should be observed for at least four hours, since symptoms can recur."
Randolph says everyone who experiences a generalized reaction to an insect sting should see a board-certified allergist for an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan, often including immunotherapy (allergy shots).
"Immunotherapy is proven to help develop a tolerance to insect sting, so if you are stung again your symptoms will be mild or non-existent," explains Randolph. "We recommend it for anyone who experiences a generalized, or systemic, reaction and whose subsequent allergy tests are positive for sting. Many people shy away from allergy shots because of the discomfort and inconvenience, but a few years of treatment will give you a lifetime without fear."
AANMA's award-winning ACE program features teams of volunteer physicians, nurses and community workers across the country offering free educational programs about anaphylaxis diagnosis, prevention and treatment.