Stinging insects are as much a part of summer as pool parties and picnics. But don't let these uninvited guests spoil your family's fun.
"The American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology reports that stings from insects send more than half a million people to hospitals and cause at least 50 deaths each year. Common stingers include honey bees, wasps, hornets, yellow jackets and fire ants," says Dr. Bill Dolen, an allergist/immunologist at Children's Hospital of Georgia.
Dr. Dolen recommends following these eight steps to avoid insect stings:
- Be cautious when eating outdoors and consider keeping food covered.
- If you can, avoid drinking beverages outside. Stinging insects are attracted to beverages and may crawl inside drink cans or other containers.
- Cover garbage cans with tight lids.
- Avoid wearing sweet-smelling perfumes, hair sprays, colognes, and deodorants.
- Avoid wearing bright-colored clothing outdoors, such as floral patterns.
- Don't walk barefoot in the grass.
- Watch for signs of stinging insects when gardening, mowing the yard, or doing outside house maintenance. Hornets, for example, can build huge, nests in shrubs.
- Be cautious around fire ant mounds, and don't disturb them.
Even with precaution, stings may still happen, so it's also important to be aware of the signs of an allergic reaction, since reactions can be deadly.
"A normal reaction to an insect sting will include pain, swelling and redness at the sting site, but an allergic reaction requires immediate medical attention," says Dolen.
- Hives, itching, and swelling in areas other than the sting site.
- Tightness in the chest and difficulty breathing.
- Swelling of the tongue, throat, nose, and lips.
- Dizziness and fainting, or loss of consciousness, which can lead to shock and heart failure.
If you or your children have ever had an allergic reaction to an insect sting, you are at high risk for a more severe reaction if stung again. An allergist can help you determine what kind of insect you are allergic to and recommend ways to stay safe if you are stung again.
"An epinephrine injection is the most immediate way to treat a severe allergic reaction," says Dolen. An allergist can prescribe an epinephrine auto-injector and teach you and your family members how to use it.
Or, you may be a candidate for venom immunotherapy. These are allergy shots that treat insect sting allergies and may prevent future allergic reactions.
"These shots are 97 percent effective in preventing potentially life-threatening reactions to insect stings," says Dolen.
If your child is allergic to insect stings, be sure to alert teachers, coaches and camp counselors and teach them how to use epinephrine. Also talk to your child about how to avoid situations where stinging insects may be encountered.