Updated 04 July 2014

Immunotherapy for insect-sting allergy

Insect-sting allergies are on the rise, with 5% of Americans now affected, according to a new report.


Insect-sting allergies are on the rise, with 5% of Americans now affected, according to a new report.

Many people with this type of allergy don't know they can do something about it, according to the article, published in the August issue of the journal Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology.

"While it does not always cure insect-sting allergy, venom immunotherapy, a form of allergy shots, can almost always prevent severe reactions to stings," report author Dr David Golden said in a news release from the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. "It usually provides long-lasting immunity even after the treatment is stopped."

Even 10 to 20 years after having an allergic reaction from an insect sting, the chance of having another reaction remains significant.

Venom immunotherapy doesn't completely eliminate the risk of an allergic reaction to insect stings, but reactions that do occur are usually mild and there is a less than a 2% chance of a severe reaction while on treatment, Golden said.

Protection takes effect as soon as the full dose is reached, usually within two to three months of treatment. As with other forms of allergy shots, the recommended duration of venom immunotherapy is three to five years.

"Allergy sufferers who have had an allergic reaction to an insect sting should be under the care of a board-certified allergist," Golden said. "For those with severe reactions, prescribed emergency epinephrine should always be carried. Sufferers should also talk to their allergist to see if venom immunotherapy is right for them. It's not always a cure, but it is close."

The college also offered the following sting-prevention tips:

  • Wear pants and long-sleeve shirts when gardening or working outdoors.
  • Don't walk barefoot in the grass.
  • Be careful when eating or drinking anything sweet.
  • Don't wear sweet-smelling perfumes, hairsprays and deodorants when you're outside.
  • Don't wear brightly coloured clothing with floral patterns.

More information

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has more about insect bites and stings.

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