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Health Team

Insect stings can pack serious, even deadly, punch

Posted May 30, 2013

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— Insects are usually small, but some can pack a big punch. Insect stings account for over 5,000 emergency room visits every year in the U.S. and about 50 deaths.

Lindsay Scott, 7, doesn't mind the tiny sting of her regular immuno-therapy shots.

"You just feel a pinch," she says.

It's nothing like the sting she felt after sitting on a fire ant nest.

"That resulted in hives, kind of all over her trunk and some difficulty breathing," says Lindsay's mother, Kathy Scott.

She is also allergic to flying insect stings, including yellow jackets.

Most people experience redness, itching and swelling after an insect bite, but others, like Lindsay, have a more severe allergic reaction.

Insect venom allergies can be dangerous Insect venom allergies can be dangerous

Dr. Vaishali Mankad of the Raleigh Allergy Immunology Partners says symptoms right at the site of the sting are no cause for concern, but people who have other reactions should seek professional help. Stings can cause breathing difficulties, chest and throat tightness, problems swallowing or wheezing.

In extreme cases, insect bites can cause anaphylaxis – "dizziness and a loss of consciousness due to a sudden, sharp drop in blood pressure," Mankad says – or cardiac arrest.

She recommends an emergency epi-pen or regular immunotherapy shots with extract of the venoms for which the patient tests positive in allergy tests.

A lot of patients, and even doctors, don't realize that venom allergy shots are available for some common insects, including hornets, yellow jackets, wasps and fire ants.

The shots are up to 97 percent effective in preventing life-threatening reactions.

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