For a patient with an allergy to insect bites or insect stings, Florida’s year-round mild weather can be a bit of a double-edged sword. Each day spent outside enjoying the sunshine also puts an insect allergy patient at risk for a potentially dangerous insect bite or insect sting. Insect allergies affect more than two million Americans and upwards of 100 people die of anaphylaxis shock to insect venom each year in the United States according to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, a division of the National Institute of Health. Researchers suspect that figure is greatly underestimated.
Common insect allergies include allergies to insect stings by honeybees, wasps, hornets, yellow jackets and fire ants. Depending on the degree of a patient’s insect allergy, symptoms can range from mild to severe and include itching, hives, flushing, itching or tingling inside the mouth, nausea and vomiting. The most severe reaction to insect allergies is anaphylaxis, marked by wheezing and difficulty breathing or swallowing, hoarseness, swelling of the tongue or face, slurred speech, dizziness or fainting, even death. Anaphylaxis symptoms can occur within seconds or be delayed for up to 24 hours.
Treatment of insect sting anaphylaxis typically involves administration of epinephrine (also known as adrenaline). Patients with diagnosed insect allergies often carry self-injectable, single doses of prescription epinephrine in small, pen-shaped devices. This will help stabilize an allergic reaction by rapidly reversing anaphylaxis symptoms, relaxing smooth muscle tissue in the lungs, speeding up the heart rate, preventing hives and skin welts and reducing swelling of the face, mouth and throat. Still, emergency treatment should be sought immediately, as a mild initial reaction does not preclude a more severe delayed or secondary reaction. For those with severe insect allergies, the risk of anaphylactic shock, including serious cardiac and respiratory complications, can last for many hours following an insect bite or insect sting.
If insect allergy is suspected, an allergist may perform allergy skin testing and/or blood testing to identify the specific insect and degree of sensitivity. Patients with insect allergies have the option of venom immunotherapy (VIT), a series of injections of small amounts of pure venom. Doses are increased over the course of treatment to build up a patient’s tolerance to venom proteins that trigger allergic reactions, helping to prevent allergic reactions. VIT is highly successful in providing long-term protection from potentially life-threatening insect sting reactions.
If you or your child has a suspected insect allergy, schedule an appointment with one of our physicians at Allergy & Asthma Specialists of North Florida today. We have four convenient Jacksonville, FL locations on University Blvd., the Westside, in Mandarin and in Orange Park in nearby Clay County.