Feature Article

Beware of allergic reactions to stings and bites

Robert J Heddle, Graham O Solley



Stings and bites from insects and ticks commonly cause allergic reactions, ranging from a local swelling to major anaphylaxis. Each patient responds in a unique way and the best course of action must be determined, taking several factors into account, including identification of the offending insect and the severity of the reaction.

Key Points

  • Life-threatening allergic reactions to stings or bites from insects and ticks are relatively common.
  • The insects responsible include honey bees; paper, mud and European wasps; and ants.
  • Allergic reactions to bites and stings develop rapidly, peak quickly and usually ease within a day or two.
  • Adverse reactions range from large local swellings arising from the sting or bite site to systemic responses confined to the skin and anaphylaxis.
  • The most effective method to reverse anaphylaxis is an injection of adrenaline.
  • Killing embedded ticks in situ reduces the risk of allergic reaction.

    Picture credit: © SPL/Ian Boddy.