As summer continues marching on, the calendar surely includes upcoming cook-outs, boating on the lake or just a few hours playing in the backyard. The warmer temperatures and longer days present increased opportunities for visits for not so welcome winged visitors. While stinging insects may only be a minor annoyance to some, for others they can lead to serious, life-threatening allergic reactions. Unfortunately, anaphylaxis resulting from insect stings takes 100 lives each year.

Bees, wasps, multiple species of hornets, yellow-jackets and fire ants are the most common stinging insects that cause an allergic reaction. When these insects sting you, they inject a toxic substance called venom. Commonly, when someone is stung or bitten by these insects, they will experience symptoms such as pain, redness, itching and minor swelling in the area around the bite or sting. This is a normal and expected response. These symptoms will typically improve on their own within hours or days.

If a common mild, localized reaction does occur, there are some steps that should be taken at home. Rarely does any medical intervention need to occur at a provider’s office or emergency facility. It is important to quickly removing the stinger if it has been left in the skin. Following, it is important to gently wash the area with soap and water to prevent secondary infections, and a cold compress can reduce swelling and pain. Topical steroid ointments or oral antihistamines can assist in itch relief.

In others, however, the sting or bite and correlating venom can trigger a life-threatening allergic reaction. This life-threatening reaction, or anaphylaxis, requires immediate intervention and medical attention. Anaphylaxis may present with skin rashes such as hives, widespread itching, swelling on the body, or swelling of the mouth, lips, tongue, and/or throat. It can also include difficulty breathing or wheezing, dizziness, loss of consciousness, stomach cramping, vomiting, diarrhea, or weakness. Signs that anaphylaxis may be rapidly worsening or progressing in a serious way include a such drop in blood pressure, or a sense of impending doom.  Without immediate treatment, anaphylaxis can result in death

If you or a loved one has a known allergy to a stinging or biting insect, or the symptoms of anaphylaxis described above occur shortly after a bite or sting, it is important to seek medical care immediately. Likely one or more dose of epinephrine will be required, along with additional aid in the way of antihistamines, albuterol, oxygen, intravenous fluids, and corticosteroids. It is crucial that with a known allergy to stinging insects, a person carries at least two doses of injectable epinephrine and can access them within 60 seconds of exposure. Anytime epinephrine is used, a follow up visit to the nearest emergency department is required.

When spending much anticipated time outdoors this summer, thought into what you might wear actually can be protective. Avoid clothing that will make you look or and sprays that make you smell like a flower when spending time outdoors. There is some data showing that wearing khaki and gray colored clothing and abstaining from perfumes or other scented personal use items do minimize the risk of being stung or bitten when insects are unprovoked.  Also, use caution and refrain from being barefoot in and around areas where stinging insects may be living. This includes grass, nests that are in the ground, or nests found in trees, bushes, or on buildings. When landscaping, remove old tree stumps, fallen trees, or piles of debris that stinging insects could nest in. It is also beneficial to limit the amount of flowers and other colorful landscaping that attract insects, especially near areas where people may be present. It is important to refrain from leaving open beverage or food containers outdoors, and make sure garbage cans are also properly covered. If a canned beverage has been left unattended for some time, consider throwing it away as there is a risk a stinging or biting insect is not within the sugary liquid. Finally, in the spring season, before the majority of the unwanted winged friends are among us, check home door and window screens and make any necessary repairs.

If a stinging insect is flying around you or has landed on you, although it may be difficult, it is important to remain calm. Trying to squash or swat at an insect may cause it to sting or bite. Keeping the windows rolled up when driving will further help reduces unwanted meet and greets as well. However, if a stinging or biting insect does enter a vehicle, stop the car slowly, and open all windows.