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Summer Sting Allergies - Bees & WaspsSummer Stings

More time spent enjoying the great outdoors can mean bee and wasp stings are an unwelcome part of summer.

While unpleasant, for most of us a wasp or bee sting just means a bit of pain, itchiness, redness and minor swelling; easily remedied by an ice pack or wet cloth, and antihistamine tablets or lotions, hydrocortisone cream, vinegar or calamine lotion.

But for a small percentage of the population, a sting can be deadly – around 2–3 people die each year in New Zealand from insect sting reactions. Knowing what to do if someone has an allergic reaction could mean the difference between life and death.

Anaphylactic Symptoms
An anaphylactic reaction occurs when the body's antibodies respond to the insect venom by releasing chemicals such as histamine and serotonin that trigger an allergic reaction.

Symptoms of a moderate general or anaphylactic reaction include hives or itching, puffy eyelids and puffy lips.

Symptoms of a severe anaphylactic reaction include swelling of the tongue, difficulty swallowing, hoarseness and wheezing, dizziness and light-headedness, difficulty breathing, anxiety and disorientation, nausea and vomiting, symptoms of shock such as rapid heartbeat, weak pulse and a drop in blood pressure, and a loss of consciousness or seizures.

What to Do
Call an ambulance immediately by dialling 111. All suspected anaphylactic reactions require prompt medical treatment. A reaction that may initially seem mild can progress to being more severe.

Severe anaphylactic reactions need immediate treatment with adrenaline, given in the form of an injection. The main action of adrenaline is to strengthen the force of the heart's contraction and to open up the airways in the lungs. Adrenaline is usually sufficient to reverse the reaction, although more than one dose may be required to achieve this.

People who know they have anaphylactic reactions will generally carry self-injectable adrenaline (e.g. an EpiPen). This needs to be administered into the large muscle in the front of their thigh. The device only contains one dose, so medical assessment after the adrenaline has been administered is crucial in case the reaction worsens and further doses of adrenaline are required.

It is possible to reduce the severity of future reactions – or even prevent them altogether – through a treatment known as immunotherapy (aka desensitisation).

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Issue: Summer 2015