Insect Allergy

It’s natural that we react to insect stings, however some people experience reactions to certain insects that go beyond a sting.

The stings and bites of numerous insects in Australia are known to cause allergic reactions. Reactions can be severe and, in some cases, life-threatening.

Common bites and stings to watch out for come from ants (Jack Jumper, green, fire), bees (honey, native Australian), wasps (paper & European), ticks and snakes.

Allergic reactions to insect stings and bites can range from mild localised symptoms to severe generalised or systemic reactions such as, immediate hives, large localised reactions, generalised reaction—rash involving most of the body, anaphylaxis—respiratory and/or blood pressure compromise.

Around 1 in 250 Australians will suffer an anaphylactic reaction due to insect allergy. The Jack Jumper Ant is a uniquely Australian problem, and has been responsible for several deaths in recent years.

Sensitivity to insect stings and bites can be long-lasting, and allergic reactions can become more severe with repeat encounters.

Common Causes

Allergic reactions to insect stings are caused by the venom injected. Those of insect bites are generally caused by a reaction to anti-coagulants or toxic proteins in the insect’s saliva.

Several insects and animals in Australia are known to cause allergic reactions:

  • ants: Jack Jumper aka Jumping Jack/Jumper/Hopper/Skipper (unique to Australia; a common cause of anaphylaxis); fire ant (an introduced species from South America); green ant
  • bees: honey; native Australian
  • wasps: paper; European
  • march flies
  • sandflies
  • midges
  • ticks
  • mosquitoes
  • snakes (rare)

Treatment

Insect stings and bites, by their nature, are one of the most difficult allergic triggers to avoid. However, once the allergen has been correctly identified, the potential risk and symptoms can be managed and treated in a number of ways. Depending on the particular allergen and severity of symptoms, these may include:

  • immunotherapy —for wasp or bee sting allergy
  • antihistamines for local reactions
  • corticosteroids
  • anaphylaxis action plan
  • adrenaline autoinjector (EpiPen)—for those with a history of significant reactions
  • protective clothing—90% of bee stings are on bare feet
  • insect repellent
  • avoiding potentially risky areas and environments
  • appropriate removal of ticks
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