Updated: Apr 20

Background Of all the types of life-threatening allergies, those involving stringing insects - bees, wasps, hornets, yellow jackets, and fire ants - may be the least understood. Some people react normally to insect strings for their entire lives, and then suddenly experience a severe allergic response. Those who have had one allergic reaction can expect a 60% chance of a similar or worse response when stung a second time. Some people never become sensitized to stinging insects, while those who do exhibit allergic reactions can have sensitivities that last from fewer than three months to more than 25 years.

Incidence and Prevalence For nearly 3% of the population, a sting results in anaphylaxis, an acute systemic type of allergic reaction that is sudden, severe, and life-threatening. Each year, about 50 people die of bee stings in the United States. Although most of these patients were 40 or older and had a pre-existing heart condition, insect stings have been known to have serious consequences in patients of all ages.

Cause and Risk Factors Anyone may become allergic to bee or wasp stings, but those with existing allergies of other kinds run the greatest risk of a severe reaction. It should be noted, however, that the chance of becoming dangerously allergic to stings is not high. That being said, those individuals who have experienced delayed, severe local swelling can potentially face anaphylaxis if they continue being stung.

When someone exhibits a severe and generalized reaction following a sting, sometimes the next sting, especially after many years, may cause no reaction at all. This is the general pattern in children. Nevertheless, it is impossible to say with any certainty how severe a subsequent reaction will be - so care is always needed when there are stinging insects around. In some cases, symptoms become worse with each sting and the time between sting and symptoms may be reduced.

The five stinging insects listed above cause the majority of the severe allergic reactions to insects. However, there are other insects that cause allergies, as it turns out, many people have an allergy to cockroaches.

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