"The American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology reports that stings from insects send more than half a million people to hospitals and cause at least 50 deaths each year," Dr. Bill Dolen, an allergist and immunologist at Children's Hospital of Georgia, noted in a hospital news release.
"Common stingers include honey bees, wasps, hornets, yellow jackets and fire ants," he said.
But, Dolen advised, there are eight things people can do to avoid insect stings and protect their health, including:
- Be mindful when eating outdoors and consider covering food to keep insects away.
- Try not to drink outside. Glasses, cans and other beverage containers attract stinging insects that may crawl inside.
- Make sure garbage cans are sealed tightly.
- Don't wear sweet-smelling deodorant or perfumes or other scented products, such as hair spray and cologne.
- Avoid walking barefoot in the grass.
- Try not to wear brightly colored clothing outside, particularly floral patterns.
- Look for signs of insects when working outside, gardening or mowing. For example, shrubs may conceal hornets' nests.
- Do not disturb fire ant mounds.
Despite taking precautions to avoid insects, stings can still occur, Dolen noted in the news release.
Learn the signs of an allergic reaction, so you can get help quickly when it's needed, he suggested. "A normal reaction to an insect sting will include pain, swelling and redness at the sting site, but an allergic reaction requires immediate medical attention," Dolen said.
Warning signs of a potentially serious reaction to an insect sting include:
- Hives, itching and swelling that spreads to areas other than the sting site
- Tightness in the chest
- Trouble breathing
- Swelling of the tongue, throat, nose and lips
- Fainting, or loss of consciousness, which can lead to shock and heart failure
Anyone who has had an allergic reaction to an insect sting is at greater risk for a more severe reaction if they are stung again. An allergist can help determine exactly which insect is causing an allergy and develop an action plan that should be followed if another sting occurs.
"An epinephrine injection is the most immediate way to treat a severe allergic reaction," noted Dolen. An allergist can prescribe an epinephrine auto-injector and provide directions on how to use it.
Venom immunotherapy may be another option, added Dolen. "These shots are 97 percent effective in preventing potentially life-threatening reactions to insect stings," he said.
Children who are allergic to insect stings should be informed about how to avoid them, Dolen cautioned. Parents and guardians of these kids should also make sure that their child's teachers, coaches and camp counselors are aware of the allergy and know how to use epinephrine.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides tips on how to protect yourself from insect stings.