Ask an Allergist: Take the sting out of summer

Provided by Dr. Curt Hedberg, allergist and owner of Hedberg Allergy & Asthma Center

Stinging insects are as much a part of summer as picnics and pool parties. For most people, irritating insects cause no more than an “Ouch!”

But for those who are allergic, stinging and biting insects — including bees, wasps, hornets, yellow jackets and, in some parts of our state, fire ants — send more than half a million people each year to hospital emergency rooms and cause at least 50 deaths each year.

Normal reaction vs. allergic reaction?

A normal reaction does not require a physician or emergency department visit.An allergic reaction does require an emergency department visit.Below are some of the characteristics that may help you determine the difference between a normal reaction and an allergic reaction.


  • Pain at the sting or bite site
  • Swelling and redness confined to the sting or bite site


  • Hives, itching and swelling in areas other than the sting site
  • Tightness in the chest and difficulty in breathing
  • Swelling of the tongue, throat, nose and lips
  • Dizziness and fainting or loss of consciousness, which can lead to shock and heart failure

Note: If you, or someone you know, has an allergic reaction to an insect sting, see an allergist — a doctor who specializes in diagnosing and treating allergies. People who have experienced an allergic reaction to an insect sting have a 60 percent chance of a similar or worse reaction if they’re stung again.

An allergist can prescribe an epinephrine and other emergency medications and teach you and your family members how to administer an injection to treat severe reactions. Some patients may becandidates for venom immunotherapy, allergy shots that treat insect sting allergy, which may prevent future allergic reactions.

How can I avoid insect stings?

Avoiding stings from flying insects can lead to a safer, more enjoyable summer. ACAAI President Dr. Richard Gower suggests the following tips for avoiding summer insect stings:

  • Keep food covered when eating outdoors.
  • Don’t drink soft drinks from cans. Stinging insects are attracted to the sweetness and may crawl inside the can.
  • Garbage cans stored outside should be covered with tight-fitting lids.
  • Avoid sweet-smelling perfumes, hair sprays, colognes and deodorants.
  • Avoid wearing bright-colored clothing.
  • Put mothballs in an open bag and place it in tight spaces (like a mailbox) to keep wasps from hiding out in there.curthedberg.JPG

Source: American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology

Dr. Curt Hedberg, pictured right, is a board-certified allergist and owner of Hedberg Allergy & Asthma Center, with offices in Rogers and Springdale. Dr. Hedberg’s clinic is very mom and kid-friendly, and we’ve heard nothing but great reviews of him from lots of local moms, dads and kids. To contact the clinic, click here to visit their website or call them at 479-464-8887. Our thanks to Dr. Hedberg for the great summer info on stings.