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Allergic reactions to insects – treatment methods

News

02.08.2021

Allergic reactions to insects – treatment methods

During the summer, the time we spend in nature while on a picnic, fishing, hiking or walking is significantly increased, and this heightens the risk of being bitten/stung by insects, which are extremely active during the season. People who are not allergic to the specific type of insect that has bitten or stung them will experience minimal discomfort such as itching or redness at the site of the bite/sting. A small percentage of people – about 3% – can have an allergic reaction, which in rare cases can be extremely severe, life-threatening, or fatal.

What is an allergic reaction to insects?

Insect allergy is a reaction of the immune system that is caused by coming in contact with insects – touch, contact with parts of their bodies or products of their activity, and most often when bitten/stung. The allergic reaction may be mild and manifest with a burning sensation, pain, redness, local swelling, dermatitis, but a small percentage of victims are at risk of developing an acute allergic reaction within a few seconds to minutes after the life-threatening sting. The most severe reaction – anaphylactic shock – needs urgent medical attention. There’s very short time to act, and any delay may put the person’s life at risk.

Allergy to blood-sucking insects

The bites of blood-sucking insects as a whole do not pose a risk of severe allergic reactions. Local reactions of immunocomplex and delayed type are predominant. The allergy usually manifests hours later with swelling at the site of the bite, pimples, itching, which are unpleasant but not a threat to health. More severe allergic reactions are associated with nausea, urticaria, headache, sweating, Quincke’s edema. Anaphylactic shock due to the bites of blood-sucking insects is extremely rare.

Contact allergy

Contact allergy occurs from contact – touching parts of insects’ bodies or products of their activity. It is most often experienced by apiarists who can develop allergies even to bee products such as propolis.

Respiratory allergy

It is also possible to develop a respiratory allergy to insects, which manifests with rhinitis, asthma and others, due to active long-term coexistence with the insects in question. People whose homes are infested with cockroaches can develop such an allergy to the unpleasant insects. Destroying them permanently solves the problem.

Allergy to stinging insects

Stinging insects – wasps, bees, hornets – are the most dangerous ones in terms of causing an allergic reaction. The first sting does not cause a severe allergic reaction. The risk of such increases with the number of stings over time or with multiple simultaneous stings. The allergic reactions that may occur can be local, which are unpleasant but not life-threatening, or severe and potentially fatal systemic, requiring immediate medical attention and anti-shock.

Who is most at risk for a severe allergic reaction to a sting?

Cases of severe reactions are most common among men at a young age – up to 20 years old. In general, women are less prone to developing anaphylactic shock from insects than men.

Symptoms of a mild allergic reaction to a sting

The most common allergic reactions to insect stings are local. They occur with redness and large swelling at the affected area. They require treatment, but are not life-threatening if the sting is not on the throat or mouth. Systemic allergic reactions can be mild, moderate, and severe. Mild and moderate occur with rash, weakness, dizziness, anxiety, difficulty swallowing, bronchospasm and other manifestations that require medical intervention.

Symptoms of a severe allergic reaction to a sting

The most severe allergic reaction, which develops rapidly and requires immediate life-saving medical attention, is anaphylactic shock. It develops within seconds to minutes after the sting and is manifested with cyanosis, collapse, a sharp drop in blood pressure, suffocating.

Preventing and treating stings

In case of a sting, the following actions are taken:

  • Carefully remove the stinger without squeezing it in order to prevent more venom from being released.
  • Apply ice or an ice-cold compress to the affected area.
  • Antihistamines may be administered if pain and itching occur from a mild allergic reaction.
  • Severe allergic reactions that develop seconds after the sting require emergency care, hospitalization, dexamethasone, antihistamines, anti-shock treatment. Until medical help is available, adrenaline can be administered intravenously, which is life-saving.

The following actions are recommended as sting prevention:

  • Clothing that covers as much of the body as possible.
  • Avoiding wearing colorful clothes, perfumes, and cosmetics when in nature.
  • Examining food and drinks before consuming them in nature so as to avoid swallowing an insect.
  • Tightly closing food containers and bottles after each consumption outside.

If you have had a severe systemic allergic reaction to an insect at some point, then the chance of recurrence is substantial. Always carry adrenaline with you, and ask your doctor to show you how to use it. In order to deal with the problem entirely, you can undergo desensitization, which is a way to completely cure insect allergy. It is performed by an allergist and is a controlled injection of a small amount of poison, followed by increasing doses over certain periods in order for the body to “get used” to it and not react in a severe, violent, and life-threatening way. The effectiveness of immunotherapy is high – 95-100%.

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