Growing epidemic is a sting in the tail for wasp allergy sufferers

Growing epidemic is a sting in the tail for wasp allergy sufferers

  • 13 September 2016
  • Healthcare News
  • News

Allergy sufferers are being urged to stay aware of the symptoms and signs of anaphylaxis as the UK moves into the height of wasp season.

The risk of getting stung by a wasp highest in September and the recent heatwave has intensified risk even further.

As the height of the wasp season approaches, a national campaign supported us is highlighting the dangers of anaphylaxis from wasp stings and the importance ofALK_Infographic_small_5 awareness, prevention and treatment options to beat the condition. The call from the charity comes in September, the month when wasps in the UK are most active and the most critical time to be vigilant against wasp sting allergies.

The prevalence of allergy in the UK has been increasing at an alarming rate over the last 20 years – so much so, that the number of hospitalisations caused by severe allergies have increased by seven fold in the last decade1.

Professor. Steve O’Hickey (Consultant with a special interest in Allergy) from Royal Worcester Hospital said: “The exact reason for this growing allergy epidemic across the UK is unclear, but it is likely attributable to three key factors: a general increase in incidence; an increase in the severity of these incidents; an increase in the complexity of these more severe and common incidents.

“Seasonal allergies, especially insect allergies, are becoming increasingly common and as the latter end of the summer approaches we do receive an increase in incidents of anaphylaxis as a result of wasp stings.

“Through the Bee Resistant campaign, we’re aiming to raise awareness by explaining the dangers and signs to look out for, as well as the treatments that are available within the NHS that can reduce the worry of sufferers and their families.”

To add to the woes of allergy sufferers, the recent heatwave is set to further increase the aggression and persistence of wasps – as it becomes uncomfortably hot for them inside their nests – meaning a higher chance of getting stung2. Hot weather also leads to improved breeding conditions for wasps and a higher prevalence of the insects they feed on, meaning they are more likely to thrive and be higher in numbers than would normally be the case.

Lynne Regent, CEO, Anaphylaxis Campaign said: “September is about enjoying the last of the warm weather but for those who have experienced a serious allergic reaction to a wasp sting in the past, it’s a time of increased anxiety as the chances of getting stung – potentially fatally – significantly increase.

“The Bee Resistant campaign is about raising awareness of anaphylaxis and educating the public on the dangers and symptoms to look out for, as well as the treatments that are available that can dramatically reduce the potentially life-threatening effects of getting stung.”

Guidance from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) states stings caused more than 70% of all deaths from anaphylaxis in the UK between 1992 and 20013.

1% of the UK population is at risk of a sting that can provoke an allergic reaction and a small minority of these people will go on to develop the potentially fatal allergic symptoms of anaphylaxis4.

Symptoms of anaphylaxis include itching commonly affecting the palms, soles, groin area and scalp, general hives, swelling of the lips, tongue or throat, difficulty in breathing, tightness in the chest, faintness or dizziness and a feeling of fear or impending doom.

In case of an emergency5:

  • If an adrenaline device is available, use it without delay if you believe the reaction is severe, or becoming severe
  • Dial 999 and call an ambulance immediately – say that the person is suffering from anaphylaxis
  • Keep the patient as still as possible
  • If they recover quickly, it is still important to go to hospital for observation or visit their GP in case of delayed or repeated reactions

Local (i.e. at the site of the sting) allergic reactions do not require emergency treatment, cold compresses or pain killers can be used to quell the burning sensation caused by the sting. Keeping a swollen limb elevated can also help to ease the pain and antihistamines can be taken to help reduce swelling and itching. For people who suffer from a large local reaction, steroids can help to speed up the healing process. The earlier they are used the more effective they are. In the case of a larger reaction which may require steroids, always seek advice from a doctor or nurse first.

Sufferers who have experienced severe allergic reactions should be referred to an NHS allergy clinic for further assessment. In people with confirmed allergy, a longer term solution may be venom immunotherapy treatment (VIT) which can change the way a patient’s immune system reacts when stung and is effective in preventing anaphylaxis in the future.

VIT has to be administered in specialist clinics by medical professionals – there are about 60 NHS specialist allergy centres around the UK.

To find out more about the campaign visit or follow us on Twitter @BeeResistant. If you are concerned about anaphylaxis, visit your GP or contact our helpline on 01252 542029.