Systemic allergic reactions to insect stings affect up to 5% of the population during their lifetime, according to a 2015 study published in the Journal of Asthma and Allergy.
Some insect stings can cause a potentially life-threatening allergy known as anaphylaxis. This tends to occur more with honeybees than yellow jackets since their stinging mechanism can remain embedded in the skin and continue to release venom long after the sting. Still, it is possible with a yellow jacket sting.
Overall, roughly three of every 100 people stung by an insect will experience anaphylaxis, according to 2007 research from the John Hopkins Asthma and Allergy Center.
Symptoms of anaphylaxis include:
- Shortness of breath (dyspnea)
- Hives or rash
- Facial swelling
- Swelling of the tongue and throat
- Rapid heartbeat (tachycardia)
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
- Difficulty swallowing (dyspnea)
- A feeling of impending doom
Anaphylaxis to an insect sting can develop at a terrifyingly rapid pace, with symptoms often appearing within five to 10 minutes. Delayed reactions, also known as biphasic anaphylaxis, are more common with food and drugs than insect stings.
If left untreated, anaphylaxis can lead to shock, unconsciousness, coma, asphyxiation, cardiac or respiratory failure, and death.
If you are at risk of anaphylaxis, ask your healthcare provider for a referral to an allergist for immunotherapy treatments (also known as allergy shots). The aim of the immunotherapy is to desensitize you to the insect venom by introducing tiny amounts into your body at regular intervals.
If successful, immunotherapy may help prevent anaphylaxis. However, it may not erase all of your allergy symptoms.