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Insect allergies

Any insect with stingers that can inject venom into its victim can cause an allergic reaction for some people.

More commonly however they are painful, itchy, may cause swelling and redness but are not allergic reactions or life-threatening. By knowing the difference you will know how to react.

Some of the common insects blamed for reactions in Australia include

  • bees - particularly the honey bee, cause most of the allergic reactions to insects in Australia. A bee usually leaves a sac of venom and a stinger in your skin - which should be scraped out (rather than squeezed or pulled) to reduce the amount of venom injected. In a severe reaction symptoms  can include dizziness, breathing or swallowing difficulties, rapid pulse, hives, swelling and in extreme cases, anaphylaxis. 
  • wasps - unlike bees that can only sting once, wasps can sting multiple times. This will cause irritation but may also lead to dizziness, breathing or swallowing difficulties, rapid pulse, hives, swelling and in extreme cases, anaphylaxis. 
  • jack jumper and green ants - ant bites usually simply hurt but other reactions can include localised swelling and reddening, fever, blisters, rapid pulse and can cause anaphylactic shock. 
  • mosquitoes - bites from mosquitoes often cause small lumps to form on your skin that are usually very itchy. If you are particularly sensitive to insect bites, you may develop blisters, weals and even swelling of large areas that can be very uncomfortable​.
  • march flies - a bite from a March fly can be very painful. As well as the formation of a weal around the bite, you may experience hives, dizziness, weakness, wheezing, itchiness and swelling that often occur around the eyes and lips for short periods of time.
  • fleas - if you are sensitive to flea bites, they can lead to a number of itchy red lumps forming. 
  • midges - bites from midges are very similar to mosquitoes causing small lumps to form on your skin that are usually very itchy. If you are particularly sensitive to insect bites, you may develop blisters, weals and even swelling of large areas that can be very uncomfortable​.

Less common are reactions to

  • caterpillars - it is the spines on the caterpillar that can cause severe skin irritations and, in extremely rare cases, anaphylaxis.
  • ticks - ticks will bite into the skin to attach themselves. Normally, localised itching and swelling will result. In mild allergic reactions large local swelling can result while in extreme reactions anaphylaxis can occur.
  • snake bites - you will probably be seeking medical advise already, so any allergic reaction to a snake bite will need to be recognised and treated quickly as well!

Most people will not have severe symptoms after an insect bite or sting but some people can react badly to them and you are more likely to have an allergic reaction if you are stung, rather than biten, by an insect.

The severity of an insect sting reaction varies from person to person. 

  • A normal reaction will result in pain, swelling, and redness around the sting site. Although the affected area may be painful for a few days, this is normal.
  • A large local reaction (LLR) will result in swelling that extends beyond the sting site. While it often looks alarming, it is generally no more serious than a normal reaction. It can also cause a rash, nausea and painful or swollen joints
  • The most serious reaction to an insect sting is an allergic one. This often requires immediate medical attention as it can cause a potentially life-threatening allergic reaction (anaphylaxis). It is rare to experience anaphylaxis after an insect sting, and it is rarely fatal.

If you are stung or bitten, try not to scratch the site. If a sting remains try to scrap it out to reduce the chance of inserting more venom. You can then try holding ice over it afterward to reduce the pain. You can also use an anti-inflammatory medication if the pain or swelling is significant.

Should symptoms such as breathing difficulties, rapid pulse, dizziness, etc occur then medical treatment should be sort immediately.

 


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