Antihistamines are the first-line treatments for insect stings. They can help reduce swelling, itching, and hives. First-generation antihistamines are the easiest to find, but for some people cause drowsiness. First generation antihistamines include:

  • brompheniramine (Dimetapp)
  • dimenhydrinate (Dramamine)
  • diphenhydramine (Benadryl, Sominex)
  • doxylamine (Vicks NyQuil)

The side effects of first-generation antihistamines are not normally desirable, so second-generation antihistamines, which have fewer or no such effects, are now recommended by many doctors. Over-the-counter second-generation antihistamines include:

  • cetirizine (Zyrtec)
  • loratadine (Alavert, Claritin)


Epinephrine (also known as “adrenaline”) is a hormone that increases heart rate, contracts blood vessels, and dilates air passages. It’s the primary treatment for an emergency allergic reaction like anaphylaxis. Anyone with a known insect sting allergy should carry an auto-injection epinephrine kit when venturing anywhere into nature. An epinephrine auto-injector is a combined needle and syringe that makes it easy to deliver a single dose of the medication. Three common brands of auto-injection epinephrine are Anapen, EpiPen, and Twinject.

It’s important to remember that epinephrine is a rescue medication only, and that anyone who suffers an anaphylactic reaction to an insect sting should be taken to see a medical professional immediately, whether they have been given a dose of epinephrine or not.


A severe reaction may also require a course of oral or injected steroids under the guidance of a medical professional.