Insect Sting Allergy Prevention

Written by the Healthline Editorial Staff | Published on July 22, 2014
Medically Reviewed by George Krucik, MD, MBA on July 22, 2014

Insect Sting Allergy Prevention

The two main ways to prevent another allergic reaction are to be desensitized and to avoid being stung. If you have had an allergic reaction to an insect sting, you probably want to avoid having it again.

Desensitization

If you have had a severe allergic reaction to an insect sting, your doctor may suggest allergy shots. This process is also known as desensitization. This procedure can make you less sensitive to the insect you are allergic to.

Desensitization involves injections of gradually increasing doses of the allergen. As your body adapts, you stop having an allergic reaction. If successful, you will react less or not at all if stung by the insect. According to the Cleveland Clinic, this treatment is 97 percent effective in preventing future occurrences.

Avoiding Insect Stings

If you know you have an insect sting allergy, there are several actions you can take to help prevent stings.

Don’t:

  • wear perfume, cosmetics, scented soap, or hair sprays when outdoors
  • wear colorful outfits that might be seen to insects as a flower bed
  • walk outside barefoot
  • provoke a known nest or hive of stinging insects

Do:

  • wear shoes when walking around outside
  • wear protective clothing
  • always look carefully before sitting down or leaning back when outdoors
  • cover food, drinks, and garbage when outdoors
  • stay calm if you see bees flying around—they will only sting if provoked
  • shake out clothing that gets left on the ground
  • when driving, keep your windows closed
  • identify the insect you are allergic to

Identifying Stinging Insects

It’s useful to be able to identify stinging insects and their homes so that you can avoid them.

Honeybees and Bumblebees

These two types of bees live in honeycomb structures, in places like hollow trees or cavities of buildings. They are gentle and will only sting if provoked. Honeybees are amber with black stripes and have short, fuzzy hair; bumblebees are yellow with black stripes and look furry.

Yellow Jackets

Yellow jackets are small, short, and blocky. They are usually bright yellow and black with no hair. They’re predators and can be very aggressive. Yellow jacket nests are usually underground but may be found in woodpiles, under porches, in wall hollows, and in cracks in masonry. Their nests look like they are made of papier-mâché. 

Hornets

Hornets are the strongest of the stinging insects. They are usually quite dark, with mostly black coloring and some yellow, and have some hair. Their nests are usually found high above ground on branches of trees, in shrubbery, or in the hollows of tree trunks. From the outside, the nests are football-shaped and brown or gray in color. Like yellow jackets, hornets can be aggressive.

Paper Wasps

This is a common type of wasp that is long and slender. Body color varies with species. They can be brown with yellow markings, dusty yellow, or reddish brown throughout. Their nests are made from paper and look like small, umbrella-shaped papery combs that hang horizontally from spaces like porch eaves, hollows in trees, and attics.

Fire Ants

Unfortunately, it is hard to distinguish fire ants from other ant species. Fire ants build nests underground and can create mounds (or ant hills) that can grow up to 18 inches tall. The height depends on the soil. Fire ants will attack anything that disturbs their nest.

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