Fear No Bugs (There’s Help for Insect Allergies)

Summer is here, and the great outdoors is beckoning with its backyard barbecues, picnics in the park, and hiking and camping trips. Unfortunately, you have to share the space with insects.

Bugs have been on the nation’s mind since late spring when Brood X, a type of cicada that only emerges every 17 years, went wild in the eastern United States. For several weeks, the nymph skin of billions of cicadas littered the landscape and their loud symphony drowned out the noise of jets overhead. Some people were entranced by them, others feared the clumsy fliers pelting them every time they walked out the door.

Insect Allergies

(DaModernDaVinci / pixabay)

Fortunately, the cicadas are harmless, as insects generally are. That can change, however, if you have an allergy to certain insects. Allergies to insect bites affect about 5 to 7.5% of the population. In this article, we’ll discuss insect allergies, their symptoms, and how to manage them.

Bee stings. No one relishes a sting from a bee, wasp, hornet, or yellow jacket. But if you have an allergy to these insects, your concerns will go well beyond the temporary pain from the bite.

Anaphylaxis Symptoms:

  • Hives (not localized to the sting site)
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Dizziness
  • Abdominal cramping or nausea
  • Swelling of the mouth and airways
  • Accelerated pulse
  • Unconsciousness

To avoid bee stings:

  • Keep a watch out for bees’ nests around your home and have them removed immediately.
  • Avoid wearing brightly covered clothes—bees will be drawn to them.
  • If you’re outside with sugary foods, cover or dispose of them.
  • Keep garbage cans covered.
  • If a bee is buzzing around you, stay calm and try to walk away from it in a straight line. Don’t try to swat it away or you’ll put it on the defense.

Fire ants. Fire ants are right up there with bees as the most common source of insect allergies. Most people will feel a painful sting that subsides to mild itching when a fire ant strikes. If you are allergic to fire ants, however, your painful bites may turn into blisters that burn and itch for days. You may also experience anaphylaxis as described above under bee stings.

To avoid fire ant bites:

  • Watch your yard for dirt mounds that indicate fire ants. Eliminate them with treatment bait or professional extermination services.
  • If you’re out and about, watch where you’re walking and avoid fire ant dirt mounds.
  • Wear closed-toed shoes in areas prone to fire ants.

Mosquitos. Male mosquitoes will leave you alone; they are only interested in water and nectar from nature. Female mosquitoes, however, want your blood. They are drawn to your scent, the chemicals in your sweat, and the carbon dioxide that you exhale. When a female mosquito inserts her “proboscis” (the tube coming out of her head) into your skin, you’ll be left with the “gift” of a bit of her saliva. Your immune system will detect the proteins in the saliva and react to them with chemicals that cause inflammation. You’ll recognize that inflammation as a red, itchy bump—a mosquito bite.

While most everyone is at least somewhat sensitive to mosquito bites, some people may experience several allergic reactions to these bites. This may cause:

  • Large bite areas (larger than a quarter)
  • Bruising near the bite
  • Hives surrounding the bite
  • Anaphylaxis

To prevent mosquito bites:

  • Eliminate standing water around your home
  • Wear light-colored clothing that covers your skin (long pants, long sleeves, socks, close-toed shoes, etc.)
  • Apply insect repellent with DEET as the active ingredient (preferably 6 to 25% DEET). Reapply every several hours or after swimming or sweating.
  • Burn citronella-scented candles
  • Stay indoors during dawn and dusk when mosquitoes tend to be most active

While everyone should be on guard against mosquitoes, especially during the summer, some groups of people are more inviting to mosquitoes. These include men, pregnant women, people who are overweight, people with type O blood, people who have recently exercised or consumed beer, or those who emit larger amounts of certain acids (lactic and uric) and ammonia.

Cockroaches/dust mites. These insects are a problem year-round, but they surge during summer. The warm, humid environment energizes them to scavenge for food and breed at increased rates. Unlike the biting insects mentioned above, cockroaches and dust mites trigger allergies in a different way. Exposure to their dead body parts, excrement, and saliva can cause the following symptoms:

  • Runny or congested nose
  • Sneezing
  • Itchy and/or swollen eyes
  • Wheezing
  • Coughing
  • Asthma

Just being around the debris of these critters can turn you into an allergic mess.

To prevent cockroach allergies:

  • Clean up any food items that may be left on counters or the ground
  • Seek professional extermination services if you notice a significant cockroach problem in your home

To prevent dust mite allergies:

Dust mites feed on dead human cells that are found in dust. To eliminate dust in your home:

  • Encase pillows and mattresses in dust-proof covers
  • Wash bedding weekly
  • Use vacuum bags with HEPA filters or double-layered microfilter bags
  • Dust regularly using a damp cloth
  • Replace carpeting with hard floor options (tile, wood, etc.)
  • Replace window coverings with non-fabric options (shutters, etc.).

Talk to your doctor about venom immunotherapy if you have a severe allergy to stinging/biting insects. While we do not currently offer venom immunotherapy through AllergyEasy, we do offer sublingual immunotherapy for dust and cockroach allergies. This involves taking daily drops of an “allergy serum” under your tongue. These allergy drops absorb into the bloodstream and desensitize your body to the cockroach and dust mite debris that is stirring up your allergies. After all, the problem is not the insects; it’s your body’s reaction to them. Desensitization “teaches” your body to stop overreacting to them in ways that produce uncomfortable allergy symptoms.

Summer, with its carefree, sunny days and outdoor adventures, is a wonderful time of year. With careful avoidance steps and desensitization through immunotherapy, you can share the season peaceably with insects.

And if you’re a doctor looking to desensitize your patients to insects, mold, pollens, or food, contact us to inquire about our turnkey allergy treatment program for physicians nationwide.

About The Author

Stuart H. Agren, M.D.

Stuart H. Agren, M.D. completed his undergraduate studies at the University of Utah and went on to earn his Doctor of Medicine from Tulane University School of Medicine in 1974. He completed additional training at L.D.S. Hospital in Salt Lake City, Utah and then established his private medical practice starting in 1975. Dr. Agren completed a mini-residency in Industrial Medicine at the Robert Johnson School of Medicine at Rutgers University and also completed training to become a certified Medical Review Officer.

Dr. Agren was the Medical Director at TRW and McDonnell Douglas in Mesa, Arizona and at Stauffer Chemical and Kennecott Copper in Salt Lake City, Utah. He also served as an adjunct faculty member at Arizona State University.

In his private medical practice, Dr. Agren specialized in family practice and allergy. In his work as a private practice allergist, he was one of the first doctors in the country to prescribe sublingual immunotherapy to his patients as an alternative to subcutaneous immunotherapy (allergy shots). He has also been a trailblazer in the field of food allergy treatment and research, developing a program to treat multiple food allergies simultaneously using sublingual immunotherapy. Dr. Agren has been featured on local CBS, NBC, and ABC news affiliates and won the peer-nominated “Top Doc” award from Phoenix Magazine.

After 20 years in private practice, Dr. Agren became the Founder and President of AllergyEasy, which helps primary care physicians around the country offer allergy testing and sublingual immunotherapy treatment to their patients. Over 200 physicians in over 32 states use the AllergyEasy program to help their patients overcome environmental and food allergies and asthma.