NEW YORK (CBS 2) — Summer weekends often mean insect stings. For most people, those bug bites are a nuisance, but for millions, they can be life-threatening.

Bug bites can be itchy or painful because the sting injects venom, and that venom can trigger an allergic reaction just like pollen or peanuts or mold.

In a small percentage of people, the immune system can have a lethal overreaction.

Joseph Arlack didn’t know he was allergic until a yellow jacket stung him eight years ago. He had a severe allergic reaction and was rushed to the hospital.

“I was totally disoriented. I was itchy all over. I later became very weak,” he told CBS 2’s Dr. Max Gomez. said. “I was very close to death. They told me my organs had started to shut down.”

With dozens of people dying each year from bee, wasp and other insect stings,  a national task force is updating guidelines for diagnosing and treating sting allergies. The American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology wants to make sure everyone is aware of the symptoms of severe allergic reaction.

“Itchiness of mouth and throat, trouble breathing, chest tightness,” Dr. Clifford Bassett of the NYU Langone Medical Center lists.

The  new guidelines  also warn that insects usually considered a nuisance,  like bumblebees, are causing more severe reactions.

If you are allergic, experts say shots are key for keeping reactions in check.

“Allergy shots are designed to give you small quantities of insect venom that you’re allergic to over time and the body will develop a tolerance,” Bassett said.

Arlack went for shots for several years to try to reduce the danger if he’s  stung again. He’s keeping a lookout for bees and carrying emergency medication, just in case.

“They tell me there’s a 97 percent certaintly that if I got bit again, I’d be fine, but there’s always that three percent chance I would not be,” he said.

The medication Arlak carries is something everyone with a bug bite allergy should carry. It’s called EpiPen, an auto-injector of adrenaline or epinephrine which can save your life if you have a severe allergic reaction to a sting, or also food, peanut or other serious allergies.

The first sting sensitizes you, meaning your immune system now recognizes the insect venom and is primed to react or overreact. It’s the next bite that sets it off. Or it could be many bites later.

It’s impossible to predict, but people who have nasty local reactions to bites are a little more likely to suffer the serious anaphylactic-type reaction.

How do you manage allergies to insect stings? Sound off in our comments section below…


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