Insect sting allergy
Insect stings are common, especially at a young age when children are playing in parks and gardens and are often on the ground.
As a parent, knowing the symptoms of an insect sting allergy can ensure that you are able to provide your child with the treatment and care they need.
What is an insect sting allergy?
If your child is stung by an insect, it is completely normal for them to experience pain, localised redness and swelling at the site of the sting. Local reactions, even if fairly large, should not always be seen as an allergy, but rather as a natural inflammatory reaction caused by the insect’s venom.
However, in some cases where local reactions are very large (more than 10 cm wide) or do not settle within 24 hours, medical attention should be sought.
Some children may also experience a generalised reaction that affects their whole body, and, rarely a child will have a severe allergic reaction to an insect sting called anaphylaxis.
What causes an insect sting allergy?
Most insect stings or bites are non-poisonous. Insects that bite or sting include mosquitoes, midges, flies, fleas, spiders, ticks, wasps, hornets, bees, beetles, ants, horseflies and ticks. Although non-poisonous, any type of insect sting can cause an allergic reaction.
Allergic symptoms occur when the venom from the sting triggers the release of chemicals such as histamine — not just at the sting site, but more generally throughout the body. This release of chemicals can cause a number of symptoms that can range from mild to severe.
The risk of your child having an allergic reaction is raised if a second sting occurs two to eight weeks after the first.
Symptoms of an insect sting allergy in children
Localised symptoms of a mild allergic reaction that affect the skin include:
While severe allergic reactions to stings are rare, it is useful to know what they are. Symptoms of a more severe insect sting allergy are:
- Wheezing, coughing, trouble breathing and a tickly or itchy throat
- Sudden feeling of weakness, dizziness, low blood pressure or fainting
These severe symptoms may indicate your child is experiencing a severe reaction called anaphylaxis.
How to treat insect stings
If your child is having a mild, localised reaction, you can treat their symptoms at home by:
- Scraping (not pulling) the stinger off the skin to limit the amount of venom released
- Washing the area with soap and warm water
- Applying a cold compress or an ice pack on the affected area to reduce swelling
- Giving them over-the-counter antihistamines and painkillers to help ease discomfort, swelling and itching
- Applying a topical antihistamine preparation, hydrocortisone cream, or calamine lotion
In children where reactions are severe, venom desensitisation (or immunotherapy) may be appropriate. This consists of a series of injections given over a number of years that alter the body’s natural reaction to the venom to reduce symptoms.
Anaphylactic reactions must always be treated as an emergency, and you should dial 999 straight away. If your child has had a severe reaction in the past and has been prescribed an auto-injector, such as the EpiPen, Jext pen or Emerade pen, this should be administered immediately and 999 should be called as quickly as possible.
Preventing insect stings
There are a number of things you can do to help limit your child’s exposure to insects and help reduce their risk of being stung. Tips for preventing stings include:
- Avoiding eating outside, especially on the ground or in spaces that are surrounded by a lot of greenery
- Keeping them in closed shoes whenever possible, especially when they’re outdoors
- Teaching them to be calm around insects — rather than swatting them, show them to move away slowly, gently brush insects off or stay still until the insect moves away
- Checking outdoor play areas for insect nests and teaching your child to avoid and not disturb any nests they might come across
- Keeping car and house windows closed or fitting screens to keep insects out, especially during the spring and summer months
- Whenever possible, dressing your child in clothes that cover their arms and legs and avoid putting them in bright-coloured or floral clothing as these can attract insects
- Address any insect problems, hives or nests in or around your home
Testing your child for an insect sting allergy
Insect sting allergies are typically diagnosed through an assessment of your child’s symptoms and by performing a specific blood test for insect venom. This test helps identify which type of insect stings your child is allergic to so that you can know how to best treat and avoid any future reactions. Once we have identified the cause of your child’s reaction we can provide expert advice on how to manage their symptoms and offer potential treatment solutions, so you can keep your child safe.
Contact our friendly practice team today to book a consultation.
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“She was very thorough in her examination and explanation of all the allergies and reactions, we really felt comfortable speaking to her and having her treat our little one.”