Spring has finally arrived in Utah! Spring weather means gardening, beautiful flowers, and flying insects of the stinging variety! Honey bees start leaving their hives and looking for pollen and nectar at about 54 degrees Fahrenheit. Wasps, hornets, and yellow jackets may become active between 45-50 degrees Fahrenheit. You may have noticed they are already out this spring looking for victims!
Each year in the U.S. as many as 225,000 people are seen in the emergency room for flying insect stings and up to 100 people die as the result of insect sting anaphylaxis. It is possible that the number of deaths from insect stings is significantly underestimated, since many of the deaths may be falsely attributed to heart attacks or other causes if the insect sting wasn’t observed.
Are Flying Insects Aggressive?
At Intermountain Allergy and Asthma, I see many patients that come in for evaluation after a “bee sting”. However, of all the possible insects that sting, honey bees are probably the least likely to cause problems. Bees usually ignore nearby people unless the person is close to their hive. You may need to intentionally annoy a bee in your garden in order for it to pay any attention to you. Wasps, hornets, and especially yellow jackets are a different matter. They tend to be much more aggressive than honey bees, and will sometimes go out of their way to sting – even when the person poses no threat to the insect or to their nest.
Are Flying Insect Stings Dangerous?
Most single insect stings, while painful, are not at all dangerous. A fairly large area of swelling, redness, and itching is common and does not indicate that the person has a significant “allergy” to the insect. Even a very large local reaction (i.e., sting on the finger with swelling to the elbow) may be nothing but a giant nuisance.
However, reactions distant from the site of the sting can indicate a much more severe problem and need to be evaluated. These symptoms are:
- Swelling in the throat
- Chest tightness
- Head-to-toe hives
- Significant stomach or intestinal problems
A particularly concerning symptom after an insect sting is light headedness, dizziness, or loss of consciousness. These symptoms indicate a dangerous, potentially life-threatening, reaction to the sting.
What Should I Do If I Am Stung By a Flying Insect?
Anyone with a potentially dangerous insect sting reaction should be evaluated by an allergist, and should carry an epinephrine injector when outside. These people can be tested to determine what the actual stinging insect culprit was and then can be desensitized to the venom. The desensitization process can be a bit of a commitment in time, but it almost always works very well. Venom desensitizing is one of the most effective things that allergists do.
Milder stings can be treated with cool or cold compresses, hydro-cortisone cream, and oral antihistamines for itch. Definitely check for an embedded stinger (much more common with bee stings than other insects) and remove it before doing anything else.
How Can I Avoid Flying Insect Stings?
All people with any level of insect sensitivity should try to avoid getting stung in the first place – but this can be a challenge. Insect repellents don’t seem to help much. Some people feel that wearing brightly colored clothing attracts flying insects, but not all agree.
Something that does seem to help includes simply staying indoors if there are obvious numbers of insects flying about (but of course that’s not a lot of fun on a nice summer day). Also, be careful around garbage cans or garbage piles where food has been thrown away and be very cautious drinking sugared or flavored drinks in the summer. Proteins and sugar can and do attract the little critters.
Enjoy the spring and upcoming summer, but stay alert and “bee vigilant” for stinging insects. If you want to prepare for potential allergic reactions to flying insect stings, make an appointment to see your allergist.
Duane J. Harris M.D.
Intermountain Allergy and Asthma of Draper
New to Intermountain Allergy and Asthma?
If you suffer from spring pollen allergies or a stinging insect allergy, now is a great time to consider starting professional allergy treatment. Dr. Harris and Dr. Anderson accept new allergy patients of all ages and most insurance plans. If you have questions about insurance coverage, please contact us Intermountain Allergy and Asthma at (801) 553-1900 (Dr. Harris) or (801) 476-0052 (Dr. Anderson) and we will be happy to assist you.
If you don’t have health insurance, we offer a discount and monthly payment options. It is Dr. Harris’ and Dr. Anderson’s goal to provide the best medical treatment for their patients while working with patients to keep costs and payments reasonable.
Thank you for allowing us Intermountain Allergy and Asthma to be part of your health care team – we look forward to seeing you!