Priya Bansal MD

Asthma and Allergy Wellness Center


2435 Dean Street, Unit C
 St. Charles, IL 60175-4827

Insect Venom Immunotherapy

Immunotherapy is used to treat allergies to the venom of several types of insects, including yellow jackets, honeybees, paper wasps, hornets and fire ants. A reaction to an insect bite or sting is the body's response to the insect's venom. Although for most people insect bites and stings are minor annoyances, some people do have severe reactions. Those allergic to insect stings or bites can have increasingly strong reactions with each exposure; some reactions can even be life-threatening.

Symptoms of Insect Bites and Stings

Most reactions to insect bites and stings are relatively mild and disappear within a few days, although there are delayed reactions that can cause hives, swollen glands and fever. In general, exposure to venom from bites and stings causes redness, swelling and itching. A severe reaction to an insect bite may cause the following:

  • Nausea
  • Cramping
  • Abnormal swelling (face or tongue)
  • Constriction of the throat (from swelling)
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Dizziness or fainting
  • Hives

Those experiencing severe allergic reactions should seek immediate medical help.

Treatment of Insect Bites and Stings

If an insect bite or sting does not result in a medical emergency, general steps for treating it may include:

  • Removing the stinger (if there is one)
  • Cleansing the area with soap and water
  • Icing the area to bring down swelling
  • Taking an oral antihistamine to reduce itching
  • Using a topical cream to lessen itching and pain

Anyone experiencing symptoms in areas other than the site of the bite or sting should seek immediate medical attention; it is possible that a more severe form of allergic reaction is taking place.

Insect Venom Immunotherapy

Immunotherapy has been clinically proven to lessen insect-venom sensitivity. It involves injecting the patient with the reaction-causing allergen, in order to increase tolerance to it. A long-term treatment, immunotherapy's goal is to bolster the immune system without triggering an allergic reaction. Immunotherapy can relieve allergy symptoms, and help reduce the severity of reactions. In many cases, it offers ongoing relief of symptoms that continues after treatment is complete.

Immunotherapy is typically performed on adults, or children who are at least 5 years old. Injections are given on a regular schedule. The allergen is injected into the arm once or twice a week, and in increasingly larger doses, enabling the body to develop a tolerance to it. This part of the treatment, known as the buildup phase, usually lasts between 3 and 6 months. After that, the maintenance phase of treatment begins, during which the quantity of each dose remains stable, and there are longer intervals, generally between 2 and 4 weeks, between each injection. Within a year of starting immunotherapy, allergic symptoms should have greatly diminished. Treatment usually continues for 3 to 5 years, at which point symptoms should have disappeared.

Risks of Insect Venom Immunotherapy

Immunotherapy is a common form of treatment for allergies, one considered very safe. Usually, when a patient has an injection-related reaction, the injection site reddens, feels warm or swells slightly. These types of reactions can occur right away or during the next few hours. Some patients have the same symptoms, such as hives or itchiness, that they get when exposed to venom through insect bites or stings.

In rare cases, immunotherapy causes an anaphylactic reaction. It almost always take place within 30 minutes of receiving the injection, which is why a patient is asked to remain in the office for that period of time. If a severe reaction occurs, immediate medical care is required.

Additional Resources