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Home > Blog > Why Do We Have Reactions To Bug Bites & Stings?

Why Do We Have Reactions To Bug Bites & Stings?

Apr 22, 2024

Due to their uncomfortable number of legs and off-putting appearances, bugs naturally invoke a fear response in many humans. A healthy amount of hesitation is justified for survival. After all, humans wouldn’t have gotten very far if we all stuck our hands into a fire ant nest! 

One of the key reasons why people are afraid of bugs is because of the physical pain they cause by stinging or biting us. Some humans even have allergic reactions to these wounds, which leads us to ask: why are we allergic to the bites and stings of specific pests? Let’s explore the reasons before we dive into the types of reactions and the pests responsible. 

The Why

The answer to the titular question is simple on the surface, but the specifics still vary on a case-by-case basis. Basically, humans experience an allergic reaction to bug bites and stings once our immune systems react to the allergens. This inflammatory reaction is because our bodies release chemicals as an alarm that poison entered the system. The main culprit of allergic reactions is the venom from stinging insects. 

Bees and wasps inject us with venom when they sting, and their venom can cause anaphylaxis if the person is allergic. The good news is that allergies aren’t the same across the board. For example, if you’re allergic to bee stings, you aren’t necessarily allergic to spider bites. The bad news is that allergic reactions are more serious than people may realize. 

The basic redness and itchiness from common bites (mostly from mosquitoes) is not necessarily the result of an allergic reaction. It is possible to be allergic to mosquitoes if you have what is humorously called Skeeter Syndrome. This is when a person’s immune system reacts to the proteins in mosquito saliva and the bites grow in size. 

In a recent study from Medical News Today, 5 to 7.5% of people will have at least one severe reaction to an insect sting in their lifetimes. Allergies are already common nowadays, so it’s not hard to see why certain bugs are the source of major allergic reactions in a percentage of people. These bugs cause quite the range of symptoms in people who have the misfortune of interacting with the pests on a personal level. 

The Pests

When it comes to the actual bugs that create these allergic reactions, the specific reasons and symptoms of the reactions depend on the species. Bees don’t cause the same issues as spiders, which don’t create the health scares that Lone Star ticks do. 

The pests that commonly give us allergic reactions to their bites or stings are:

  • Stinging InsectsBees, wasps, yellow jackets, and hornets all release their venom into our bodies with each sting, and this venom is the source of allergic reactions for a percentage of people. Bees inject their venom sac into their victim, which is why they die after stinging once.
  • Biting Insects — This category includes cockroaches, mosquitoes, kissing bugs, and fleas. Biting insects give us some nasty bites, but it may be a small help to know that they are rarely life-threatening. The immediate area of the bite is often the only site that is itchy, swelling, or painful.
  • Spiders — Spider bites usually result in a standard physical reaction, including redness and pain at the site. But black widows and brown recluses are the 2 most dangerous spiders in the country, and their bites cause lasting health issues if they’re not treated immediately. 
  • Lone Star Ticks — Ticks in general give us problematic bites that could transmit disease, such as Lyme disease. The Lone Star tick goes a step further by transferring alpha-gal (a sugar) in their bites that can make the person allergic to meats! Alpha-gal is also found in meats (beef, pork, lamb) and causes an allergic reaction in some people’s immune systems.

The Reactions

Allergic reactions have common symptoms, but they can look different from person to person. It all depends on the type of bug, number of bites or stings, and the overall health of the person. If you take nothing else away from this blog, remember: it is never a waste of time to see a doctor after you’ve been bitten or stung, especially if you immediately have physical symptoms. 

The 3 main types of physical reactions to a bug bite or sting are:

  • Local Skin Reactions: The most mild of the 3, local skin reactions don’t cause worry for some people. There is usually a rash and swelling at the site, but these heal after a day or two. Ice packs and ointments are simple remedies for this level of reaction.
  • Generalized Allergic Reactions: This is a step up on the pain chart. These allergic reactions still aren’t lethal, but they do spread around the body. The common symptoms are redness, swelling, hives, and a rash. We recommend visiting your doctor if you experience a generalized allergic reaction to any bite or sting. 
  • Anaphylaxis: The top tier of reactions is the severe allergic reaction. If your reaction falls under this category, it could be life-threatening if the bite or sting is untreated. Don’t panic! With immediate medical attention, severe allergic reactions are easily treated. The common symptoms are difficulty breathing, stomach pain, tongue swelling, throat tightness, wheezing, coughing, and dizziness.

As a side note for the severe allergic reactions, they usually start with some mild symptoms before the anaphylaxis sets in. Swelling, hives, vomiting, and tingling of the mouth are the most common. As soon as you or anyone in your home starts showing signs of an allergic reaction to a bite or sting, please seek medical attention immediately. 

The Recommended Steps

If you notice that you have physical symptoms after being stung or bitten by a bug, it’s a good idea to take note (literally) of those symptoms. Write down the specific symptoms you have, as well as how long they last and what kind of bug you think it was. These notes will help with your next step, which is to visit your doctor as soon as possible. If they believe that you’re experiencing an allergic reaction, they may give you a recommendation for an allergist who will test you to find the source of your allergy. 

Whether or not you’re actually allergic to a certain bug, there is nothing wrong with seeking medical attention after having a physical reaction to a bite or sting. The best case scenario is that you’re not allergic and just need to apply some healing ointment to the site. Trust us: it’s always better to be safe than sorry when it comes to bug bites and stings!

Protect Your Home With Romney Pest Control

Bug bites and stings are (understandably) common fears for people to have, especially if you are fully allergic to one of them. At Romney Pest Control, we understand the concerns that come with finding a horde of pests living on your property. Our licensed technicians are committed to ending infestations and keeping pests out of your home for good. We search high and low for all signs of pest activity, then carefully apply our targeted treatments to the impacted areas. The health and safety of your family are our main priorities during each service, so contact us today to learn more about our reliable services!

Citations

Allergies to bites and stings. (n.d.). Better Health Channel. Retrieved April 8, 2024, from https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/allergies-to-bites-and-stings

Insect allergies (2015, October). Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. Retrieved April 8, 2024, from https://aafa.org/allergies/types-of-allergies/insect-allergy/

Lillis, C. (2023, May 31). What to know about bee sting allergies. Medical News Today. Available at https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/322075 (Accessed on April 8, 2024).

Kerr, M. (2023, May 24). Skeeter syndrome: Allergic reactions to mosquito bites. Healthline. Available at https://www.healthline.com/health/allergies/mosquito-bite (Accessed April 8, 2024).

Why do bug bites itch and how to relieve them. (n.d.). Benadryl. Retrieved April 8, 2024, from https://www.benadryl.com/itchy-skin/why-bug-bites-itch-relief

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