Insect Sting Allergy


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Most individuals the world over will have been exposed to some type of insect bite or sting. For the majority of people, this will result in some local irritation or swelling but it is not a life threatening occurrence. In some, however, a single sting from wasp, bee or specific type of ant can cause an anaphylactic reaction. If not treated immediately the body can collapse into shock and even death can result.

Wasp Sting Allergy

Wasps and hornets have the ability to sting again and again. This is because the actual stinger is a smooth shaft and can be easily withdrawn and reinserted into the victim. Depending on the type of wasp, the amounts of venom released during a sting can vary from 2 to 15 micrograms. It may not seem a lot, but remember the wasp can sting repeatedly. Once the venom has been released under the skin, it tends to spread rather rapidly to surrounding tissues. If you are allergic to the proteins in wasp venom, then an anaphylactic shock response will ensue. The immediate application of an emergency dose of adrenaline (epinephrine) is the only treatment for pending off an immune response that is so severe that death can occur. One interesting point to be noted with wasps is that when they go into attack mode and prepare to sting, they can release a chemical substance from their body known as a 'pheromone,' into the air. This pheromone alerts other wasps in the area to come and attack as well.

Bee Sting Allergy

Bee stings are similar to wasp stings to a degree. Once the venom is injected it then spreads to surrounding tissues the same way. Unlike wasps, however, the stinger of a bee is barbed so that once inserted into the victim it is nearly impossible to pull it out. When a bee stings its prey, the stinger often imbeds itself into the skin and becomes fatally detached from the bee and it will then die. One exception to this is that of the bumble and carpenter bee, which both have smooth stingers like the wasp and can reuse them without fear of death. Because most bees can only sting once, the amount of venom in a typical bee sting is much higher than that of a wasp, at approximately 50 micrograms per sting. If you are allergic to a bee sting, like wasp stings, only the emergency administration of adrenaline will keep the body from falling into anaphylactic shock.

Both wasp and bee venom contain three different toxic effects. The venom can paralyse components of the nervous system (neurotoxins), cause increase possibility of internal bleeding (haemorrhagic response) and destroy red blood cells (haemolysis).

In addition, bee venom contains a higher number of proteins (the leading cause of allergic responses) than wasp venom. This increases a person’s chance of having an allergic response to bees and makes bee allergies more common than wasp allergies.

Ant Sting Allergy

In particular, there are two main types of ants that are able to inject venom into their victims: Fire ants (U.S.A) and Jack Jumper ants (Australia). Fire ants use their mouth pincers to hold onto the skin while they use their stinger to inject venom up to eight times. Jumper ants are similar to wasps in that they only inject once. Because of the minute stature of ants, they only release a very small amount of venom into their victim, which is relative to their size. However, this small amount of venom contains a highly concentrated potion of toxins that can effectively alert the immune response and lead to an allergic reaction.

Symptoms of an impending allergic reaction to an insect bite or sting can include immediate burning pain, raised swelling at the point of the sting, rash, respiratory difficulty, dizziness, decrease in blood pressure, nausea, sweating. Severe cases lead to anaphylaxis and possibly death.

In general, the best way to avoid an allergic reaction to an insect bit or sting is to simply avoid situations in which you might come into contact with them. Steer clear of bee or wasp nests and ant hills. If a sting does occur, and your body starts to react in an unpleasant way it is best to make your way to the nearest accident and emergency department in case anaphylaxis begins to occur.


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