Dealing with Insect Bites and Stings During Allergy Season

Lions and tigers and bears? Oh my. Though those animals are scary, in the Lowcountry, we have much more cause to fear fire ants, mosquitos and no-seeums. These ever-present pests swarm our hot, moist environment during the warm season and cause us everything from mild discomfort to pain and itching to life-threatening bites and stings.

Our bodies’ reactions to these attacks is inflammation, sometimes mild, sometimes dangerous. Charleston Allergy & Asthma offers a look into which bugs just bug us and which ones set us on fire.

1. Mere Bugs

Mosquitos, gnats and no-seeums – really tiny biting flies – are a real pain in the … well, wherever you get bit. With these annoying little fliers, that could be anywhere on your body. Allergies to these animals is exceedingly rare, though mosquitos can carry dangerous diseases like malaria. Ward off these pests, by wearing products containing DEET, which is approved for use by children as young as two months.


2. Venomous Little Stingers

Wasps do it. Yellow jackets and bees do it. Even hornets in the trees do it. But that’s not the sting of love you’re feeling. Attacks from these insects cause instant pain, itching and localized swelling, but not much else. That is, unless you’re allergic, then your reaction may range from localized swelling to an array of symptoms including hives, swelling, wheezing, shortness of breath, nausea, vomiting and even loss of consciousness.

If that’s you, consider allergy testing and immunotherapy injections. They’re 98% effective at preventing life-threatening reactions to future stings and they begin taking effect almost immediately.


3. Oh My Gosh, I’m On Fire!

And then there are fire ants, popularly known in the Lowcountry as “Ow! Ow! Ow! Ow! Ow! Ow!” These black or red stinging ants launch their mass attacks from dirt mounds and crawl up legs to deliver their venom. For most people, fire ant attacks cause painful and itchy bumps that turn into fluid-filled blisters. Even if you’re not allergic, expect swelling that can spread to an entire body part, like a whole leg. So if you’re not allergic, fire ant stings “only” cause a week of misery.

Those with allergies to fire ants often require medical intervention for multi-system reactions called anaphylaxis. Symptoms may include difficulty breathing and swallowing, lightheadedness and loss of consciousness that requires an immediate dose of epinephrine.

If you suspect that you might have fire ant allergies, it’s wise to get tested and carry an EpiPen for just such emergencies, particularly because of the abundance of fire ant mounds in this area.


4. Indoor Pests

Bedbugs hide in mattresses and bite humans as they sleep. The bites raise itchy welts that are more annoying than dangerous. The symptoms can be treated with topical steroids and antihistamines. And call the exterminator!


5. Effective and Long-lasting Biters

Chigger bites/red bugs are rare in cities and suburbs, but that’s little comfort to those who suffer from their bites. Chigger saliva can damage tissue and cause swelling that lasts weeks. When you’re in the woods, keep your lower extremities covered and avoid walking through or sitting in tall grass.


6. Vegan Bugs

The Lone Star Tick’s bite turns humans into vegetarians. No kidding! (Okay, maybe kidding a little.) An allergy to its bite can cause an allergy to red meat that can last a lifetime – ours, not theirs. It’s pretty rare in these parts and that’s not the worst side effect, but insecticide and covering up are the best preventatives.


If you suspect you may have insect allergies, make an appointment with Charleston Allergy & Asthma at or 843-881-2030. They have three convenient offices in Mt. Pleasant, Summerville and West Ashley, so there’s sure to be one near you. Then, get out there this season and have fun!