Stinging insects belong in the order of Hymenoptera of the class Insecta. There are two classes that we are concerned about. One is the vespid family, which includes yellow jackets, hornets, and wasps. The other is the apid family which includes the honeybees and bumble bees. A person can be allergic to one insect or many of them. It is important to know which insect(s) can cause a serious reaction, in order to protect yourself and to be prepared to treat an anaphylactic reaction.
Reaction to stings can range from mild redness and pain to serious problems with a drop in blood pressure, difficulty breathing and possible death. The incidence of a serious reaction ranges from 0.4% to 3%. Most serious reactions occur within fifteen minutes. There can be flushing, hives, angioedema (see section on angioedema), edema of the throat, trachea, chest tightness, asthma flare-ups, or a drop in blood pressure.
If someone has suffered a serious reaction in the past, there is a 70% chance that another sting can cause another serious reaction. The second life threatening reaction is generally similar to the first reaction.
Who is at risk?
If you have been stung in the past and only had a local reaction, there is little need to worry. If you have been stung and had trouble breathing, suffered a drop in blood pressure, or experienced swelling of the tongue or throat, you should see an allergist for evaluation and possible immunotherapy injections to prevent a serious recurrence.
Some patients have suffered with a large quantity of hives, or welts throughout the body or swelling of different areas of the face. These patients may also be candidates to suffer a serious reaction.
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