Q and A: What you need to know about stinging insects this summer

By Bianca Barr Tunno, AccuWeather staff writer

Stinging and biting insects can certainly make their presence known this time of year in many parts of the United States.

Bees, wasps, hornets, yellow jackets and fire ants are the most common stinging insects that cause an allergic reaction in the United States, according to experts at the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA).

Approximately 5 percent of Americans deal with life-threatening allergic reactions to stings or bites.

Wasp nest

(Photo/bririemoments/Getty Images)

AccuWeather asked Tanya Bumgardner, an AAFA spokesperson, about how to be safe around stinging insects. Her emailed answers were edited for clarity.

Can a person know they are allergic to stings before they actually receive one?

You may not realize you are allergic to a stinging insect until you are stung and have a reaction. If you are concerned that you have a stinging insect allergy, you should talk to a board-certified allergist about doing allergy testing to confirm the allergy.

Can a person start with mild reactions and progress to more dangerous, severe reactions over time?

When these insects sting, they inject a toxic substance called venom. Most people stung by these insects will experience redness, swelling, pain or itching around the sting and recover within hours or days. In others, this venom can trigger a life-threatening allergic reaction called anaphylaxis.

If you have a large local reaction to an insect sting, such as extreme swelling that takes days or weeks to subside, you may be at greater risk for anaphylaxis if you are stung again. Symptoms usually involve more than one part of the body, such as the skin or mouth, the lungs, the heart and the gut.

If you have a history of reactions to a stinging insect, you should always take the reaction seriously. Be prepared for anaphylaxis by carrying epinephrine auto-injectors with you.

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What medical tests are available to see if a person is allergic to insect venom stings?

Combined with a review of your health history and a physical exam, an allergist may perform skin-prick tests, intradermal tests and/or blood tests.

For skin-prick testing, the doctor or nurse places a small drop of the possible allergen on the skin, then lightly pricks or scratches the skin with a needle through the drop. If you are sensitive to the substance, you will develop redness, swelling and itching at the test site within 15 minutes.

Intradermal, or under the skin testing, involves injecting a tiny amount of allergen into the outer layer of skin. Doctors may use this test if the skin prick test results are negative but they still suspect you have an allergy.

A blood test measures how many antibodies the blood produces to attack allergens. This test is called Specific IgE (sIgE) Blood Testing.

Can you share any tips about insect stings?

You cannot prevent insect stings with bug spray.

If you see stinging insects flying nearby, quietly move away.

Honeybees have a barbed stinger that is left behind in the skin. Do not attempt to remove the stinger by pulling it out. This can actually squeeze more of the venom into the sting site. Instead, work out the stinger by teasing or scraping.

Additional tips were provided by Dr. Jaison Jose, an allergist with Geisinger Health System.

insect sting avoidance tips

For more safety and preparedness tips, visit AccuWeather.com/Ready.

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