Being stung by a bee or wasp can be irritating and painful. You might see a red bump that itches or swells and causes discomfort. For some, insect bites and stings can be more problematic. If you are allergic to the venom in an insect bite, you might have a more serious reaction such as hives, swelling, or, difficulty breathing.
Anaphylaxis, which is a life-threatening condition if you don’t get medical treatment, can develop if you are severely allergic and are stung by an insect. An allergy to insect venom can develop at any time in a person’s life. It’s more common in men than in women, and more common in adults than in children.
If you think you may be allergic to insect stings, visit an allergist to get the diagnosis and treatment you need. There are several ways to test for insect sting allergies. Bee, yellow jacket, hornet, and wasp venoms are the most common types of stings for which a doctor tests.
If you are allergic to the venom in an insect sting, this means your body is hypersensitive to the venom. Your skin can produce visible reactions to the venom, so your doctor may perform a skin test.
During a skin test, your doctor will clean the area (either on the arm or back) with an alcohol wipe. Then your doctor will use extracted venom from the insect to which you may be allergic and place it the area and cover it. The test usually takes 15 minutes. If there is redness, irritation, or swelling, you may be allergic.
Your doctor may also test you for other kinds of insect sting allergies. Because a person can have severe reactions to this test, your doctor will probably have you wait for up to 30 minutes after the test to be sure you don’t have a severe or anaphylactic reaction.
If the results are inconclusive, you doctor may perform another skin test by placing the insect venom under the top layer of your skin. If you do have a skin test, make sure to talk to your doctor about any skin conditions you may have. The skin test may not work well if you have eczema. Your doctor may also ask you to refrain from taking any antihistamines or allergy medication 48 hours before the test.
Sometimes a skin test isn’t conclusive. If that’s the case, or if your doctor wants further confirmation, a blood test is performed. If you are allergic to the venom in an insect sting, your body is hypersensitive to the venom. In response, your body produces an antibody – a type of IgE protein. When high levels of this protein are found in your blood, this can indicate an allergy. Your doctor may give you a blood test called a radioallergosorbent test (RAST) that determines the amount of particular IgE antibodies in your blood.
During this test, your doctor will take a small sample of your blood. The sample is then sent to a lab to analyze the IgE antibodies in your blood. If you have high levels of IgE, you may be allergic to a particular insect’s venom. It can take a few days to get the results from this kind of test. It’s also somewhat safer than the skin test because there is not a risk of having an allergic reaction. If you have had an X-ray or taken radioactive dyes within 7 days of this test, the results may not be valid.
If the results of your skin or blood test come back negative, you are not allergic to the insect sting. If the test results are positive, you are allergic to the insect sting and should work closely with your doctor on prevention and treatment. Your doctor will make a diagnosis based on your test results, medical history, and symptoms. They may want to give you other tests to rule out any other possible conditions.
Your doctor can give you ways to avoid triggering your insect sting allergy. For instance, you will want to avoid places where bees, wasps, or hornets are. Your doctor may also prescribe medications or immunotherapy. Your doctor can prescribe an epinephrine shot for you to carry around at all times in case of emergency. If you are stung, this shot can help you survive if you have an anaphylactic (severe) reaction.