Most of the time, allergic reactions to stings are mild enough to treat with some basic first aid. In some cases, however, an allergic reaction becomes an emergency that requires immediate, professional, medical attention.

First Aid

The first thing to do after being stung is to remove the stinger as rapidly as possible. The more quickly a stinger is removed, the milder the reaction.  If you’ve been stung on the hand or arm, remove any jewelry (rings, watches, bracelets, etc.) immediately—this is to alleviate potential pain from any swelling.

Clean the affected skin with soap and water after removing the stinger, and apply a topical ointment (like hydrocortisone cream or calamine lotion) to relieve itching or swelling.  Cold compresses or ice packs should also be applied to alleviate possible swelling. If swelling and itching continues, an over-the-counter oral antihistamine can help. Pain relievers can be useful if there is serious pain. If the swelling worsens, or if the site of the sting looks infected, consult a doctor.

Treating Emergency Symptoms

If a person with an insect sting allergy is stung and experiences any symptoms that indicate an anaphylactic response, it is essential to get him or her treatment as quickly as possible. Treatment is usually epinephrine, and someone who is aware of their insect sting allergy will often have an auto-injection epinephrine kit in their home, or on them if they are out . If you’re with someone who has a severe allergic reaction to an insect sting, check to see if they have an auto-injection epinephrine kit, and administer the medicine immediately. If they do not have any epinephrine, call an emergency medical response team immediately.

In some cases, one dose of epinephrine may not be enough, so even after administering epinephrine, seek immediate medical attention. Some people may require additional epinephrine or intravenous fluids, oxygen, steroids, or other treatments. Occasionally an overnight stay in a hospital may be necessary to make sure all symptoms of the allergic reaction have cleared.

Venom Immunotherapy/Desensitization

Based on your health history and diagnostic tests, your doctor may suggest that you undergo venom immunotherapy, or desensitization, to prevent future severe reactions. By beginning with a tiny dose of the venom to which you are allergic, and gradually increasing the dosage, your sensitivity to the venom may be reduced.  By the end of a successful desensitization treatment, you will no longer have allergic reactions to that venom.