The top priority for the medical team is ensuring that your breathing and blood pressure are protected. If you are having difficulty breathing, you may be given oxygen via a tube in your nose or by face mask.
In cases of severe respiratory distress, you may be put on a mechanical ventilator. This is temporary until the effects of the reaction abate. If your blood pressure is too low, an IV line will be placed. You may be given saline solution through the IV to boost your blood pressure.
You may be given medication if needed to ease your breathing and/or increase your blood pressure. Epinephrine is the most important treatment and may be lifesaving. Epinephrine is usually given as an injection.
H1 type antihistamine such as diphenhydramine (Benadryl) usually is given by mouth or injection to decrease the histamine reaction. This relieves the itching. H2 type antihistamine (H2-blocker), such as ranitidine, famotidine, or cimetidine, may be given to augment the effect of diphenhydramine.
Corticosteroids, such as prednisone or methylprednisolone (Solu-Medrol), are often given to decrease swelling and suppress the immune response. If you are given antihistamines and steroids, you may be advised to continue to take them by mouth for several days after you leave the hospital. Allergy shots (immunotherapy) may be effective in people with severe reactions to certain insect stings.
Allergy shots are given in a series over a few months. Each shot contains a little bit more of the insect venom antigen. Ideally, the person becomes desensitized to the antigen over time. Shots are effective at reducing the severity of the reaction in most people. A booster shot is required every 3-5 years to maintain immunity. These shots are available for bee and fire ant venoms.
Make sure that all of your health care providers are aware of the type of reaction you have had. If you have had a severe or all-over reaction, you should be given a prescription for an epinephrine injection kit (EpiPen) when you leave the hospital.
This is a premeasured dose of epinephrine in an easy-to-use syringe. You would inject yourself into the thigh muscle with the epinephrine at the first sign of a reaction. Someone at your medical office can show you how to use the kit. Clear instructions are also provided at the web site of the Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network.
It is recommended that you keep 2 or more of these kits at different locations and that you keep one with you at all times in case of a sting. If you have a severe or all-over reaction to an insect sting, you should see an allergy specialist (allergist). Desensitization therapy is available for some types of venom allergies.