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Tips to Avoid and Treat Insect Sting Reactions

Outdoor sport enthusiasts and others outdoors need to be prepared for unexpected encounters with stinging insects. Knowing where nests are usually found and how to immediately treat a sting could save a life.

According to the Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network, outdoor sports activities can turn deadly for those who are allergic to stinging insects, if stung. More than 13 million Americans are allergic to insect-stings and need to take extra safety precautions when engaging in outdoor activities such as golfing, hiking, baseball, tennis, and soccer.

Insect sting reactions can range from mild to life-threatening. Symptoms of an allergic reaction usually occur within minutes of the insect sting. Local reactions typically are found at the site of the sting and cause painful swelling and itching. Some can involve swelling of an area larger than the sting site. For example, the entire arm can become swollen from a sting on the hand. Swelling may last as long as 10 days, although it usually peaks within 2 days. This type of reaction may also include nausea and low-grade fever.

Life-threatening reactions, or anaphylaxis, usually occur within seconds to a few minutes after a sting, but may begin as late as 20 minutes after the sting. Difficulty breathing, throat tightness, and wheezing can occur as a result of an insect sting and are symptoms of a life-threatening reaction. Insect stings cause approximately 40 deaths each year in the United States.

Honeybees, bumblebees, yellow jackets, hornets, wasps, fire ants, and harvester ants are the most common causes of insect stings in the United States.

“With some extra precautions and preparation, sports enthusiasts can avoid unwanted encounters with bees and other stinging insects,” said Anne Muñoz-Furlong, founder & CEO, The Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network. “For those with insect sting allergies, it is imperative to be prepared and have a game plan if stung because reactions can be quite serious.”

Before partaking in outdoor activities follow these strategies to minimize an encounter with stinging insects:

  • Avoid walking barefoot.
  • Be careful near large bushes, especially flowering ones.
  • Stay away from garbage that is not covered.
  • Pour soda into cups so you can see what’s in it at all times.
  • Keep sweetened drinks covered.
  • Keep insecticide handy.
  • Keep sport drinks covered.
  • Avoid wearing brightly-colored clothing and flowery prints.
  • Avoid scented cosmetics, perfumes, cologne, aftershave, lotions, and scented sunscreens.
  • Keep hands and face clean of sweet liquid: soda pop, juice, ice cream, butter, meat juices.
  • Be prepared to treat insect stings

It is not uncommon for stings to cause immediate pain. Some people say it feels like a hot wire was placed on their skin at the sting site. Others have pain followed by swelling and itching. Here are some strategies to relieve mild symptoms:

  • Place a cold compress on the sting site - use a cold can of soda or a jar from the refrigerator.
  • Provide acetaminophen for pain relief.
  • If available, antihistamines may be used to relieve itching.
  • Adolph’s® meat tenderizer in a paste form, or a paste made of baking soda and water may help to reduce reactions.

If the symptoms worsen, and there is a history of severe allergic reactions, seek medical attention immediately. Remember to always carry an EpiPen ®, the medicine of choice for treating anaphylactic reactions.


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