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Insect Venom Allergy

Most people are not allergic to insect venom, but the pain from an insect sting may make them think they are. Venom from bees, wasps, hornets, yellow jackets and fire ants could cause an allergic reaction. Understanding the difference between a normal reaction and an allergic reaction might save you an unnecessary appointment with your healthcare professional.

An insect venom allergy, like every allergy, is when your immune system sees venom as a threat and responds by releasing histamine and other chemicals. The release of histamine is what causes your allergic symptoms.

Venom from bees, wasps, hornets, yellow jackets and fire ants could cause an allergic reaction infographic

Three types of reactions

Everyone has a different reaction to insect stings. But in general, there are three types of reactions to insect venom:


A normal reaction with pain, swelling, and redness around the sting.


A large local reaction where swelling has gone beyond the sting. For example, if you’re stung on the ankle, your entire leg may swell up. While it looks alarming, it's usually no more serious than a normal reaction. 


An allergic reaction requires immediate medical attention.

  • Hives, itching and swelling in areas other than the sting1
  • Swelling of the tongue or throat
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Abdominal cramping
  • Vomiting
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea

Insect venom could also cause you to go into anaphylactic shock, which usually occurs within minutes of being stung.2
Symptoms of anaphylaxis include impaired breathing, swelling in the throat, a sudden drop in blood pressure, pale skin or blue lips, dizziness and fainting.

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Because an allergy to insect venom can cause a life-threatening reaction, it’s incredibly important to get an accurate diagnosis.

Learn more about anaphylaxis >

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Am I allergic?

If you think you or a loved one is allergic to insect venom, don’t try to manage the problem on your own.

A simple blood test—together with your medical history—can help your healthcare professional identify underlying allergic triggers, if you have an allergy. Knowing if you’re allergic and what you’re allergic to may also help you avoid more serious issues in the future. Be sure to consult with your healthcare professional.


Get answers

  1. Mayo Clinic. Insect bites and stings: First Aid. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research (MFMER); 1998-2017. http://www.mayoclinic.org/first-aid/first-aid-insect-bites/basics/art-20056593. Accessed September 2017.
  2. Golden DB, Demain J, Freeman T, et al. Stinging insect hypersensitivity: A practice parameter update 2016. Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. 2017: (118)28-54.