Allergic reactions to insects are on the rise, which concerns Dr. Ziegner here at Riviera Allergy Medical Center, because insects are one of the top three allergies most likely to cause a severe, life-threatening allergic reaction.

We put together this information so you’ll know the signs of an allergic reaction and can tell the difference between a normal reaction and one that requires immediate medical attention.

Types of insects likely to cause an allergic reaction

Of all the possible insects you may encounter, from common mosquitoes to spiders and bed bugs, the following five are most likely to cause an allergic reaction:

  • Honeybees
  • Hornets
  • Wasps
  • Yellow jackets
  • Fire ants

Although honeybees are less aggressive than yellow jackets, hornets, and wasps, they can cause more severe allergic reactions, so you should try to avoid them just as much as the others on the list.

Signs of an allergic reaction to insects

When an insect bites or stings, the initial response is usually pain, followed by a reaction to the venom injected under your skin.

Let’s look at the three different reactions you can have:

Normal reaction

When your physical response to an insect bite or sting stays confined to the site, it’s a normal reaction. The actual site may look like a bump, welt, or blister, while the immediate area surrounding the bite or sting becomes red, swollen, and itchy.  

Expanded local reaction

You begin to show the signs of an allergic response when you have a large local reaction. This means that the swelling and redness extend beyond the original site but you don’t develop a systemic reaction.

An expanded local reaction can be quite large and alarming. For example, a sting on the bottom of your foot could lead to swelling that extends halfway up your leg, or a bite on your arm may cause the entire arm to swell.

You don’t need need immediate medical attention for this type of response, unless it’s so painful and large you want medication to relieve your symptoms. In that case you should come in to our office so Dr. Ziegner can evaluate your reaction.

Allergic reaction

When you have an allergic reaction to an insect, you’ll have a systemic response, which means your symptoms affect other parts of your body beyond the immediate site.

There’s no doubt it’s an allergic reaction when you experience body-wide symptoms such as:

  • Skin: hives, itching, and swelling in areas beyond the sting site
  • Respiratory: difficulty breathing and feeling of tightness in your chest
  • Upper digestive tract: swollen tongue or throat, difficulty swallowing
  • Lower digestive tract: abdominal cramping, vomiting, nausea, or diarrhea

You may experience one or more of these symptoms with varying degrees of severity, depending on your individual allergic response.

If you have any of these allergic symptoms, call us right away so you can get treatment for your current allergic reaction, testing to determine all of your allergens, and ongoing immunotherapy to reduce your allergic reaction.

Signs of an extremely dangerous allergic reaction

An extremely dangerous allergic reaction, called anaphylaxis or anaphylactic shock, occurs when multiple body systems have a strong reaction to the insect bite or sting.


Anaphylaxis occurs very quickly, and it’s always an emergency. You or someone you’re with must act fast to protect your life.

If you’ve already been evaluated by Dr. Ziegner, you’ll have an epinephrine pen that you can inject to stop the reaction. Otherwise, call 9-1-1 immediately.

The symptoms of anaphylaxis are similar to those of an allergic reaction, but more severe because your immune system rapidly floods your body with chemicals that make you go into shock.

When your symptoms include difficulty breathing or low blood pressure (dizziness, fainting, nausea, blurred vision), you should assume you’re having an anaphylactic reaction, which includes these possible symptoms:

  • Difficulty breathing or wheezing
  • Chest tightness
  • Hives, itching, flushed skin
  • Swollen tongue or throat
  • Dizziness or fainting
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Pale skin
  • Confusion

Some patients have biphasic anaphylaxis, which means having a second round of symptoms hours after your first reaction.

Factors that increase your risk of an allergic reaction

You may have a higher risk for a serious allergic reaction if you:

  • Have asthma
  • Have a previous allergic reaction to a stinging insect
  • Have heart disease, high blood pressure, or pulmonary disease
  • Take beta blockers or ACE inhibitors
  • Have frequent exposure to insects

Whether you’re at a high risk or you’ve experienced an allergic reaction to an insect bite or sting, don’t wait to call us at Riviera Allergy Medical Center or book an appointment online. It’s essential to protect yourself from future reactions with appropriate treatment and an epinephrine pen.

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