Insect Stings can Trigger a Potentially Deadly Reaction Insect Stings can Trigger a Potentially Deadly Reaction
American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology

– The end of summer means that stinging insect season is beginning, and people must take extra precautions to avoid a potentially life-threatening allergic reaction, called anaphylaxis.

“The increase of stinging insects in the fall and the severity of allergic reactions to insect venom makes it extremely important for patients to be prepared to act quickly if they are stung,” said Clifford M. Tepper, MD, FAAAAI, Chair of the AAAAI Insect Allergy Committee. “Patients and their family and friends should also be aware of the first signs of an allergic reaction and have emergency epinephrine available at all times. Epinephrine should be used at the first sign of a systemic reaction of any kind, and emergency help should be sought promptly.”

Anaphylaxis occurs in up to 5% of the United States population as a result of insect stings and at least 40 deaths occur annually from reactions to stinging insects, according to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (AAAAI).

Anaphylaxis is a severe allergic reaction that may involve the entire body. It can result in trouble breathing, loss of consciousness and even death. Anaphylaxis is a medical emergency that requires immediate medical treatment, and later follow up care by an allergist/immunologist.

Anaphylaxis occurs in people after they are exposed to a substance to which they are severely allergic. The most common substances that trigger anaphylaxis are insect stings, foods and medications. Symptoms include:

Itching and hives all over the body
Swelling in the throat or tongue
Difficulty breathing
Stomach Cramps
In severe cases, a rapid fall in blood pressure may result in shock and loss of consciousness
Anaphylaxis is a medical emergency and can be fatal. If anyone experiences anaphylactic symptoms after an insect sting, call 911 to get emergency medical treatment immediately. After symptoms are treated, contact an allergist/immunologist to learn about ongoing treatment options.

When to see an allergy/asthma specialist
If you have experienced a severe reaction to insect stings or you think you may be allergic, consult with an allergist/immunologist to accurately diagnose your condition. An allergist/immunologist is the best qualified medical professional trained to manage the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of allergies and asthma.

An allergist/immunologist might suggest allergy shots, also known as immunotherapy treatment. Venom immunotherapy shots take effect within just a few months. Venom immunotherapy is the closest thing to a “cure” for allergic reactions. It is shown to be 97% effective in preventing future allergic reactions.

The AAAAI’s How the Allergist/Immunologist Can Help: Consultation and Referral Guidelines Citing the Evidence provide information to assist patients and health care professionals in determining when a patient may need consultation or ongoing specialty care by the allergist/immunologist. Patients should see an allergist/immunologist if they:

Have reactions possibly due to insect stings for accurate identification of specific allergen and consideration for immunotherapy (allergy shots).
Have systemic reactions possibly due to biting insects, for accurate identification of specific allergen.
Have a severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) without an obvious or previously defined trigger.
Have had anaphylaxis attributed to food, drugs, or insect stings.
Have had exercise-induced anaphylaxis or food-dependent exercise induced anaphylaxis.
To find an allergist/immunologist in your area, call the AAAAI Physician Referral and Information Line at (800) 822-2762 or visit the AAAAI Web site at

The AAAAI is the largest professional medical specialty organization in the United States representing allergists, asthma specialists, clinical immunologists, allied health professionals and others with a special interest in the research and treatment of allergic disease. Allergy/immunology specialists are pediatric or internal medicine physicians who have elected an additional two years of training to become specialized in the treatment of asthma, allergy and immunologic disease. Established in 1943, the AAAAI has more than 6,000 members in the United States, Canada and 60 other countries. The AAAAI serves as an advocate to the public by providing educational information through its Web site at