HMC expert offers advice on insect bites

Not all insect bites require immediate medical treatment but Dr Mehdi Adeli, Hamad Medical Corporation’s (HMC) Allergy and Immunology Awareness Programme lead and senior consultant in Allergy and Immunology, says it’s important to seek advice from an allergist if there is a suspected allergy or if an individual has experienced a severe reaction in the past.

“Most reactions to insect bites and stings are mild, causing little more than redness, itching or minor swelling.

Bites or stings from insects such as bees, ants and wasps rarely cause severe reactions, but it is important to be aware that allergic or toxic reactions can occur and should be reported to one’s doctor or allergist.

“Patients who wish to see an allergist at HMC can obtain a referral from their primary healthcare physician,” explained Dr Adeli.

Examples of severe allergic or toxic reactions include shock, coughing or trouble breathing, swelling of the lips, tongue, eyelids, hands and feet, lightheadedness, nausea, diarrhoea 

and stomach cramps and hives.

He noted that if an insect sting occurs, recommended first-aid includes:

l Removing the stinger from the skin. If a stinger is left in the skin, scrape it off with a flat object. Do not use tweezers or your fingertips as that could deposit more venom.

l Washing the area with soap and water.

l Applying a cool compress using a cloth dampened with cold water or filled with ice. This helps reduce pain and swelling. If the injury is on the arm or leg, elevate the affected body part.

l Removing any tight-fitting jewellery, such as rings or bracelets, from the area of the sting, in case swelling occurs.

Adeli noted that it is also important to treat symptoms of insect stings. “For most people, bee or other insect stings simply hurt or itch or cause a lump where the sting occurred.

This is called a local reaction.

Local reactions normally respond well to a cold compress, which helps relieve the itch and oral antihistamines to relieve other symptoms. Calamine lotion can also provide additional relief. For pain, an acetaminophen or ibuprofen is recommended.”

However, he noted that it is wise to watch for symptoms of a severe or toxic reaction, especially in children.

Symptoms to watch for include hives or generalised itching in locations beyond the site of the sting, throat or tongue swelling, difficulty in breathing, dizziness, severe headache and stomach cramps, nausea, or diarrhoea.

“While severe allergic reactions are not common, they can be life-threatening and there is a need for immediate treatment with an epinephrine auto-injector (sometimes, more than one dose) followed by medical assistance at an emergency facility for observation and additional treatment.

Late phase reactions can suddenly appear and can be more intense than initial reaction,” Dr Adeli added.

HMC’s Allergy and Immunology Awareness Program (AIAP) is focused on educating the public about allergies and immunology and empowering patients and their families to increase patient satisfaction and confidence and reduce emergency room visits for allergy-related illnesses.

As part of ongoing efforts to increase public awareness and dispel cultural myths and misconceptions about immunodeficiency diseases and compromised immunities, the programme provides a number of online resources for patients, their families and healthcare providers.

For information on the programme, and access to a variety of online resources, one can visit or e-mail [email protected]

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