Insect and Tick Allergy
Allergies to stinging insect venoms are one of the most common causes of severe allergic reactions (anaphylaxis) in Australia. Anaphylaxis to stinging insects (such as bees, wasps or Jack Jumper ants) result in an average of three deaths per year. Insect bites are a less common cause of anaphylaxis than insect stings.
Most allergic reactions to insect stings or bites result in mild or moderate symptoms. These include local itch and swellings, that can be large and uncomfortable. However, they usually settle within a few days.
Ticks (which are arachnids rather than insects) also cause allergic reactions, including anaphylaxis. Ticks are mainly located in coastal regions of mid Eastern Australia. To prevent allergic reactions to tick bites it is important to kill ticks before removing them. For more details go to www.allergy.org.au/ticks
Symptoms of anaphylaxis to venom include an all over rash, swelling of tongue or throat, trouble breathing, stomach (abdominal) pain, diarrhoea, vomiting and a drop in blood pressure (shock).
People at risk of anaphylaxis to venom are usually advised to seek urgent medical help if stung or bitten and to have their adrenaline (epinephrine) autoinjector/s readily available to treat anaphylaxis. They should also be referred to a clinical immunology/allergy specialist for further tests and treatment.
Allergy testing using skin or blood tests may be ordered by your doctor to help confirm or exclude insect allergy. This will help to select treatments and measures to treat and prevent allergic reactions to insects.
Allergen immunotherapy (desensitisation) is an effective treatment for severe allergies to bee and wasp stings. The treatment usually takes 3-5 years and rebates are available in Australia and New Zealand. Allergen immunotherapy is also available for Jack Jumper ant (in limited centres) but is not yet available for treating allergic reactions triggered by ticks or other species of ants.
Referral to a clinical immunology/allergy specialist is recommended to initiate venom immunotherapy. These specialists are listed on the ASCIA website www.allergy.org.au/patients/locate-a-specialist
For more information visit www.allergy.org.au/patients/insect-allergy-bites-and-stings
© ASCIA 2022
ASCIA is the peak professional body of clinical immunology/allergy specialists in Australia and New Zealand
Postal address: PO Box 450 Balgowlah NSW 2093 Australia
This document has been developed and peer reviewed by ASCIA members and is based on expert opinion and the available published literature at the time of review. Information contained in this document is not intended to replace medical advice and any questions regarding a medical diagnosis or treatment should be directed to a medical practitioner. Development of this document is not funded by any commercial sources and is not influenced by commercial organisations.
Content updated October 2022