Insect venom allergy, often called "bee sting allergy" can be life threatening! Many individuals may experience a large local reaction to insect sting which typically does not represent a life-threatening risk. However, a system wide reaction threatens life by causing either a severe drop in blood pressure or by causing severe airway obstruction.
Two kinds of "shots" can be helpful in treating venom allergic patients. One type of shot is preventative and the other type of shot is an emergency treatment at the time of the insect sting episode. Both types of shot can save lives but experts consider it best to prevent severe allergy reactions by regularly receiving "allergy shots."
Epinephrine and allergy shots for stinging insects are definitely not the same thing. “Epipen” is one of several brands of auto-injector epinephrine. Epinephrine is an emergency medication for treatment of life-threatening allergic reactions that might be caused by a wide variety of allergic triggers. Such an auto-injector should be carried at all times, in the event of another severe sting reaction. Patients are typically prescribed at least two injectors , so that if the reaction is severe and prolonged, a second injection can be given while you are on your way to receiving emergency care. Therefore, ideally, a "two-pack" should not be divided up.
Unfortunately it is impossible to predict how severe will be a subsequent stinting insect reaction. Following one systemic sting reaction, the next sting is up to 70% more likely to cause another systemic reaction. People can be allergic to more than one stinging insect – including wasps, hornets, yellow jackets, bees, and fire ants.
In the case of stinging insects, there is specific treatment that prevents severe, life threatening anaphylaxis (severe allergic reaction). Venom immunotherapy - also known as venom “allergy shots” - is actual insect venom given by injection to allergic patients regularly over a period years. By desensitizing gradually - with small but increasing amounts - people become less sensitive to the venom in time. Then, if they are stung, anaphylaxis (the severe system wide allergic reaction) is prevented. Venom immunotherapy "shots" are one of the best examples of preventive medicine, with over 90% effectiveness in eliminating life-threatening sting reactions. Please be aware that people have died of a venom sting reaction despite using both Benadryl and EpiPen.
Therefore, venom allergic patients should strongly consider "allergy shots." Even if receiving "allergy shots" for venom, all venom allergic patients should always carry both EpiPen and Benadryl for emergency treatment.
Authored by Robert Settipane, MD