Causes, Symptoms, Treatment & Tests For Insect Allergy

Submitted on March 27, 2012

Insect allergy occurs when an insect bites or stings an individual. The hymenoptera class of insects injects venom into other animals and humans. This produces the symptoms of an allergic reaction. Such insects include fire ants, bees, wasps and hornets.

Tests Recommended

Insect allergy tests include the following;

  • Skin prick test - In this test the skin is pricked in order to inject a small amount of venom. The reaction to the venom is monitored closely. However this test may carry the risk of anaphylaxis.
  • RAST Test - The RAST or radio allergosorbent test is a blood test in which the presence of antibodies specific to venom is determined. This test indicates the level of allergy and the type of insect to which an individual is allergic.
  • Basophil Activation Test - This is a fairly new test which works even if the individual has taken anti-histamines. It is a blood test which uses different methods to analyze the response of the allergy response cells.


Insect allergy occurs when the immune system overreacts to insect venom and perceives it as an invader. The white blood cells release an antibody called immunoglobulin E which triggers the release of certain hormones and chemicals. Histamine is one such chemical which leads to symptoms of an allergic reaction. Insect allergy causes include the following;

  • Bees, wasps and ants inject venom from a gland on their tails. If a nest or hive is disturbed, you may experience several stings. Africanized bees are highly aggressive honeybees which may sting several times. An individual who experiences several stings may suffer a serious reaction which can also be life threatening.
  • An allergic reaction can also occur in response to certain herbal medications which contain insect venom. These medications are used to treat conditions such as arthritis and may be applied to the skin. Individuals who are allergic may suffer an anaphylactic reaction when such medicines are used.


Insect allergy symptoms include the following;

  • Pain and swelling - This is a local reaction which occurs in the area of the sting. Individuals who have been stung several times before may experience a more severe reaction. In such cases the symptoms may worsen within a short period of time. Local reactions are usually not serious. However in case there is swelling of the face or neck, the airways may be blocked and you could find it very difficult to breathe.
  • Fire ant stings usually trigger a reaction in everyone. This results in symptoms such as itching, hives and blisters. Within a few hours, pus formation may occur in the area of the sting. This sore ruptures after a few more hours but the itching and redness may persist for some days. In case the redness, pain and itching continues for many days, it could be indicative of an infection.
  • Symptoms that occur in the entire body may be indicative of anaphylaxis. Symptoms of an anaphylactic reaction include hives, dizziness, breathing trouble, swelling, chest pain, nausea, vomiting or diarrhea.


Most cases of insect allergy can be treated at home. Insect allergy treatment at home includes the following steps;

  • Stay calm if you find insects around you or on your body
  • Brush off the insects from your skin gently
  • Leave the place where there is an infestation of the insects.
  • If the stinger is stuck in the skin, it must be removed as soon as possible. Scrape the area with your fingernail or some other object.
  • Do not pinch the stinger in order to extract it as this can cause more venom to penetrate the body.
  • Alleviate the swelling by elevating the affected area of the body.
  • You can also place an ice pack to the sting area.
  • Remove any jewelry from the affected area as they can hamper blood flow to the affected area.
  • You can relieve the pain by taking over-the-counter pain medications.
  • Antihistamine pills help to reduce itching. However such medication may make you feel drowsy.
  • Itching can also be reduced by applying a paste of baking soda and water.
  • In case a blister forms at the sting site, avoid breaking it and ensure that the area remains clean at all times. This will help to prevent an infection.
  • The symptoms may persist for about two to five days. It is important to continue the treatment until all the symptoms subside. In case the reaction is severe, do not delay in seeking medical care and begin treatment at the earliest.

The best treatment for insect stings is prevention. Avoid walking barefoot in areas where stinging insects may be present. Use caution when walking near bushes and trees as hornets and wasps build their nests here and you could be easily stung by them. Avoid keeping food open and do not wear any perfumes as stinging insects are attracted to food and strong aromas.