Utah Spring Brings Flying Insect Sting Allergies

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!

Where there’s Smoke, There’s Asthma

I wanted to make some observations and suggestions about the smoke that has been such a big problem this summer.

We always expect to see quite a few patients with asthma or bronchitis worsened by the winter inversions that we get each year – but we don’t typically see many people with smoke-related worsening.  This year has definitely been different!  We have been treating patients who are short-of breath, coughing, and wheezing this summer (many more than normal) – almost certainly due to the smoke.

Smoke acts primarily as an irritant in worsening breathing and can also bother the throat, the nose, and the eyes.  In general, asthma that is worse because of an irritant can be harder to treat, and may respond less well to medications, than asthma that is worse because of an allergy — i.e. being around a cat you’re allergic to.  That is what we have seen this summer – people getting less than expected results from their medications.  Several patients who were taking their medications faithfully noticed increased symptoms and have needed to increase the dose of their daily inhalers, while others have needed a few days of oral steroids to get things under control.  It feels like we have had the awful winter inversions with us all summer.

Hopefully, the smoke from local fires will be gone soon.  If not, what to do?

Smoke Avoidance Tip 1: Avoid the smoke as much as possible.  Keep doors and windows closed 24/7.  Exercise inside, not outdoors if you can, or wait for relatively ‘clean’ air days to work-out outside.  Postpone yard work until the air is a bit better if you can.

Smoke Avoidance Tip 2: If you are taking asthma meds, make sure you are taking them regularly as directed.  Many adults can stop their asthma inhalers during the summer months – maybe not this year?  If you are taking your meds appropriately, but still having problems, you may need to increase the dose, or change medications entirely.  Some may need oral steroids to get things under control initially.  If you are struggling, but don’t use any asthma meds, it is time to see your doctor.

Smoke Avoidance Tip 3:  Remember that coughing may be due to chest irritation, or due to post-nasal drainage from an irritated nose or throat (or both).  In addition to asthma meds, you may benefit from regular nasal sprays, throat lozenges, and even gargling with saline.

Smoke Avoidance Tip 4: You may do better if you wear a face mask while outside.  I say ‘may do better’ because it makes a big difference what type of mask you use.  A cheap, poorly fitting mask may do little, while a more expensive, correctly fitted mask could help a lot.  See this recent (brief) report on face masks and air pollution.

Smoke Avoidance Tip 5: This may the right time to talk to the financial advisor and see if there is money for a small cottage in the Alps?  Or Hawaii?  Anywhere that the air quality is better!

Smoke Avoidance Tip 6: Pray for rain! 

Good luck dealing with our air quality.  Keep in mind that although smoke from local fires has diminished, it still may occur this fall and will most certainly be present next year. Please let us know if we can help.

Duane J. Harris M.D.
Intermountain Allergy and Asthma of Draper

New to Intermountain Allergy and Asthma?

If you suffer from allergies and have never seen an allergist, 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 Intermountain Allergy and Asthma at (801) 553-1900 (Dr. Harris) or (801) 476-0052 (Dr. Anderson) and we will be happy to assist you.

Please bookmark our web page “Intermountainallergy.com” or follow our Facebook page “Intermountain Allergy and Asthma – Draper, UT” to keep up on the tips about allergies and asthma.

 

Allergy Myths 101: Unfiltered Local Honey

There are many old wives tales or popular myths about how a person can treat their allergies. Here at Intermountain Allergy and Asthma, we have heard them all! As a way to help dispel allergy myths, we’ve invited Dr. Harris to share a few of his thoughts in our “Allergy Myths 101” blog posts. We hope you’ll read this and read future 101 posts. Dr. Harris, take it away!

Here is a popular allergy myth: Eating unfiltered local honey will help control allergies.

I want to start this by saying that I love unfiltered “raw” honey.  I personally eat a lot of honey (sometimes by the spoonful), but I don’t recommend it for allergies.

There are two reasons that local honey is unlikely to be helpful with seasonal allergies:

Local Honey Allergy Myth Reason 1: The pollen that is found in honey is generally not the pollen that is causing your allergies.  Bees are attracted to bright, colorful, and fragrant plants (such as roses or lilacs), but pollen from those plants usually doesn’t cause nose and eye symptoms.  Most of the time, the pollen types that make us miserable in the spring and fall comes from drab, un-colored plants, with no noticeable fragrance (such as the grass in your front lawn, or ragweed).  These are the plants that bees usually ignore.  Ingesting the wrong pollen simply isn’t going to make a difference.

Local Honey Allergy Myth Reason 2: When we eat pollen-containing honey, the pollen proteins are very likely destroyed, or at least significantly altered by stomach acid and other digestive enzymes so that any allergy potential they may have had is eliminated.

If you could somehow put honey with the ‘correct’ pollen in it under the tongue (where a portion is absorbed directly into the blood stream) it might be effective.  Believe me though, it would take a lot of honey to do any good.

So – by all means enjoy the flavor of raw, local honey, but use tested and proven medicines and treatments to take care of allergies.

Duane J. Harris M.D.
Intermountain Allergy and Asthma
Draper, Utah

A Local Raw Honey Tip from Dr. Harris

An interesting taste test is to compare ‘raw’, unfiltered honey and commercial honey from your local store (it’s important that the raw honey hasn’t been heated at all or this may not work).  A friend who produces honey told me about this and I could definitely taste a difference (I loved the ‘raw’ honey).  Apparently, any significant heating can change the flavor – so you get the best, most ‘natural’ flavor by consuming the honey before it crystallizes and needs to be heated or ‘melted’.

New to Intermountain Allergy and Asthma?

If you suffer from allergies and have never seen an allergist, 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 Intermountain Allergy and Asthma at (801) 553-1900 (Dr. Harris) or (801) 476-0052 (Dr. Anderson) and we will be happy to assist you.

Please follow our web page “Intermountainallergy.com” or Facebook page “Intermountain Allergy and Asthma – Draper, UT”, for the daily pollen count.

Thank you for allowing Intermountain Allergy and Asthma to be part of your health care team – we look forward to seeing you!

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