Solutions for Stinging Insect Allergies

See an Insect Allergy Specialist in St. Louis, MO

See an insect allergy specialist in St. Louis. Dr. Sonia Cajigal is a board certified allergist that specializes in stinging insect allergy testing and treatment. Visit us at St. Louis Family Allergy to learn what you can do about your insect allergies.

“Dr. Cajigal is the best. We’ve been seeing her for the last 4 years. Having young children with allergies is scary. I have always felt listened to and not made to feel like any question is dumb.”

– Amy, February 2022

Insect Allergy Specialist Dr.Sonia Cajigal of St. Louis Family Allergy in St. Louis, Missouri
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About Insect Allergies

About Insect Allergies
Insect Allergy Symptoms
Insect Allergy Testing
Insect Allergy Treatment

Stinging insect allergy, also called venom allergy, occurs when the immune system overreacts to the venom transferred by an insect during a sting. Insect allergies include bee allergies, fire ant allergies, wasp allergies, and hornet allergies.

In most individuals with stinging insect allergy, reactions are caused by 5 types of insects:

  • Yellow Jackets
  • Honeybees and Bumble Bees
  • Paper Wasps
  • Hornets
  • Fire Ants

Insect Allergy Symptoms

Even if you are not allergic, insect stings typically cause a visible reaction on the skin in the form of redness, swelling, pain, and blistering. If you are allergic, however, the swelling and redness typically affects a larger area and tends to itch as well.

Individuals with a serious insect allergy can experience severe systemic symptoms, called anaphylaxis, when stung by an insect that they are allergic to. Symptoms of a severe allergic reaction include:

  • Swelling of the face, throat, or tongue
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Itchiness and hives over large areas of the body
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea or diarrhea
  • Stomach cramps

Anaphylaxis can be life threatening. Please seek emergency medical attention immediately if you observe any of the above symptoms.

It’s also possible to have a toxic response to insect stings even if you’re not allergic. Symptoms are similar to anaphylaxis in this case, but are caused by an ‘overdose’ of insect venom rather than an allergic response. A toxic reaction to insect venom really only occurs when you take on a very large number of stings.

Serum sickness is another distinct reaction to an insect sting that’s not allergy-related but can have allergy-like symptoms. Serum sickness is an unusual reaction to a foreign substance in the body that can cause symptoms hours or days after the sting. Symptoms include fever, joint pain, other flu-like symptoms, and sometimes hives.

See an Insect Allergy Specialist

in St. Louis, Missouri

Insect allergy in St. Louis, Missouri

Insect Allergy Testing

Tried and true allergy testing methods can be used to confirm your insect allergy diagnosis. Typically, insect allergies can be detected with a skin test using venom extract. Blood testing may also be used if skin testing is not viable or if skin test results are uncertain, as we explain in more detail below.

Dr. Cajigal can help you determine whether or not you have an insect allergy, and help you develop a plan in case you have another run in with a stinging insect. When first evaluating for a stinging insect allergy, Dr. Cajigal will ask you questions about previous stings, your reaction to those stings, and what symptoms you experienced. Diagnostic questions can include the following:

  • How many stings have you had?
  • Where were you stung?
  • What was your reaction like? What symptoms did you experience?
  • How long did your reaction last?
  • What did you do to alleviate your reaction?

If your experiences are consistent with an insect allergy, Dr. Cajigal will administer a skin-prick test and/or an intradermal skin test to confirm your diagnosis. In a skin-prick test, a small amount of liquid containing insect venom is placed on the back or the forearm and then pricked with a sterile needle to allow the liquid to seep into the skin. Because patients are usually unaware of what insect they reacted to, venom testing is usually performed with each of the five commercial venom extracts: bee, wasp, yellow jacket, yellow hornet, and white faced hornet. The treated area is examined 15 to 20 minutes after the venom is administered to see if a reaction has occurred.

If the skin prick test is negative or inconclusive then an intradermal skin test may be used. An intradermal test involves injecting a small amount of venom extract just under the skin, and is considered to be more sensitive than the skin-prick test. If both skin-prick and intradermal tests are negative, then Dr. Cajigal may recommend a blood test as a final step to rule out insect allergy as the cause of your reaction.

See an Insect Allergy Specialist

in St. Louis, Missouri

Insect allergy testing blood test

How to Avoid Stinging Insects

If you’ve been diagnosed with an insect allergy, there are steps you can take to avoid exposure, manage symptoms when they occur, and prevent future reactions.

Because insect stings can be quite painful, we recommend that everyone do what they can to avoid them, but avoidance is especially important if you’re allergic because anaphylaxis from insect allergies can be life threatening.

  • Watch out for hives and nests: Insects are most likely to sting if their homes are disturbed. Be mindful of hives and nests.
  • Have hives and nests destroyed around your home: Limit your exposure to stinging insects by removing them from your home. Commercial products or an exterminator may be required to fully remove a hive or a nest.
  • Move away quickly: If you accidentally disturb an insect’s home, move away quickly.
  • Cover yourself outdoors: Wear closed-toe shoes and socks outside, and wear work gloves when working in the yard.
  • Avoid wearing bright colors and perfume scents: Insects can confuse bright colors and perfume scents with flowers; avoid brightly colored clothing and perfume when outdoors.
  • Cover food and drinks outdoors: Sweet foods and beverages can attract insects; cover food and drinks when cooking, eating, or drinking outside.
See an Insect Allergy Specialist

in St. Louis, Missouri

EPI Pen for insect allergy treatment

Insect Allergy Treatment

Non-severe allergic reactions to insects can be treated with over-the-counter antihistamines and anti-inflammatory medications. Topical steroids, such as hydrocortisone, can also help reduce swelling when applied at the site of the reaction. Ice can be applied to the affected area to help reduce swelling as well. Blisters from insect stings usually heal on their own within a few days as long as they’re kept clean and dry. Anti-infection ointments like bacitracin or neosporin can help minimize the chance of infection.

Treatment for Severe Insect Allergy (Anaphylaxis)

If you’ve had a severe allergic reaction to insects in the past, you should carry an autoinjectable epinephrine device (an EpiPen). Dr. Cajigal can teach you and your children when and how to effectively use an EpiPen should you need it. Please be mindful that an EpiPen is a rescue medication only, and you should still go to an emergency room if you are stung even after using an EpiPen.

Insect Allergy Shots

Allergy shots may be an effective long-term treatment for your insect allergies. Allergy shots are often referred to as a ‘curative therapy’ because they can prevent future allergic reactions. If allergy shots are right for you, Dr. Cajigal will give you shots containing small doses of the venom that you’re allergic to, allowing your body to build up a natural immunity to the insects that you’re allergic to. Please note that a formal diagnosis is required prior to considering allergy shots.

References

[1] American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology: https://acaai.org/
[2] Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America: https://www.aafa.org/
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Visit Insect Allergy Specialist Dr. Sonia Cajigal of St. Louis Family Allergy in St. Louis, Missouri

Insect Allergy Specialist
Dr. Sonia Cajigal

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"Dr. Cajigal was friendly, professional, and informative. She took the time to explain the tests and what was going on with my allergies. She is so knowledgeable and really cared about how I was feeling. I would highly recommend this practice if you suffer from allergies and asthma."

- Sue D, July 2020

“Dr Cajigal is a great listener. She trusts her patients instead of treating them as if they are not the experts of their own bodies. I really appreciate that (many doctors do not have that quality). She also immediately treats the symptoms instead of waiting to see if things clear. I use her for my children and myself. We have never left her office feeling as if it was a waste of time.”

– Stephanie, August 2020

"Great Allergist!"

- Ann H, December 2018

"She is the best."

- Stephen W, June 2020

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