Allergy Testing: What You Really Need to Know
With winter in full effect and spring right around the corner, we know we’ll soon enter a season not technically on the calendar but important nonetheless – allergy season. Allergy season can start as early as January here in the South and last well into November. But for the more than 24 million people who have allergies, it’s never too early to start preparing for a long and miserable allergy season. Last summer I learned a hard lesson about the importance of allergy testing. Hopefully, my lesson will encourage you to get you or your loved ones tested for allergies.
The morning of July 29th, 2019 started out as any normal Monday morning. I woke up and did all the usual morning things that people do – ironed my kids’ school uniforms, woke them up, you get the gist. My two kids, Hannah and Nathan also began their day like any other. We live in a well-contained area, so my son has the morning task of walking our 3-year old Shih Tzu, Oakleigh. While he is outside, I use this time to finish getting ready. But this morning was different. While upstairs I heard Nathan crying and yelling. I ran down the stairs and see Nathan standing in the front door without Oakleigh. Tears were running down his face, his hand was bleeding, and his clothes were dirty. He was trying to tell me what happened, but I couldn’t understand him through the crying. He finally calmed down enough to tell me that he was attacked and stung by bees. Without a second thought, I picked up a bottle of Benadryl that was sitting on the counter and gave him the recommended dose. I couldn’t remember if he had ever been stung by a bee before, so, I had no idea if he was allergic to insect venom. I sent him into the bathroom to clean himself up. When he came out, I noticed that his hands were ice cold, he was sweating and said he felt dizzy and nauseous. I could tell that something was wrong because he was not acting like himself. He said, “Mom I don’t feel so good”. He was pale and unsteady on his feet, I got worried.
Fortunately, we live a quarter of a mile from a fire/ems station, so we headed that way. I ran out the door in flip-flops, no purse, no phone, with lights and the TV still on. In less than two minutes we were at the station. I told the paramedics what happened, and they started to take his vital signs. His blood pressure was extremely low. That’s when they told me that they needed to get him to the emergency room.
As it turns out, Nathan had an anaphylactic reaction to insect venom due to an allergy that I was unaware of. The reaction would have been worse, and the outcome could have been fatal if I had not given him the Benadryl.
We later found out that Nathan was not actually stung by bees, but he was attacked by bald-faced hornets. There was a nest the size of a cantaloupe in a tree near the sidewalk where he was walking Oakleigh. Today I am happy to report that while we are all still recovering emotionally, Nathan has made a full recovery physically. He now has an EpiPen that is always with him. This helps me sleep a little easier at night knowing that if there is a next time we will be prepared. This experience also caused me to learn a lot about insect stings, their prevalence and the importance of allergy testing.
Insect Sting Anaphylaxis – What it is and how prevalent is it?
At least 90 – 100 deaths per year result from insect sting anaphylaxis. Thousands of people enter emergency rooms or urgent care clinics every year suffering from insect stings. It has been estimated that potentially life-threatening allergic reactions occur in 0.4% – 0.8% of children and 3% of adults.
Most insect stings in the United States come from wasps, yellow jackets, hornets, honeybees, and red or black imported fire ants. These stings typically result in the same symptoms, which include:
- Swelling (in area of sting and sometimes beyond)
If an individual has a severe allergic reaction, or anaphylaxis, which can occur within minutes of a sting, symptoms typically include dizziness, a sharp drop in blood pressure, the loss of consciousness or cardiac arrest. These reactions can be life-threatening. Immediate medical attention and a dose of epinephrine are typically required.
In insect venom allergies, the body’s immune system attacks certain parts of proteins that enter the body when the insect bites or stings. Some people are generally more likely to have allergies. But it isn’t known why some people have an insect venom allergy and others don’t. This allergy doesn’t develop after the first sting or bite, either. Sometimes people get stung or bitten for years without having an unusual reaction, but over time, their bodies can become more sensitive to the venom and they then suddenly start to have an allergic reaction to it.2
This is why allergy testing and knowing your benefits is important.
If I had Nathan tested for allergies, I could have possibly known he was allergic to insect venom. I could have been more prepared and avoided the emotional stress and trauma that was caused by this incident.
Blue Cross NC will provide coverage for allergy skin and challenge testing when it is determined to be medically necessary. But, please refer to your Member’s Benefit Booklet for a complete list of benefits as benefits may vary according to your particular plan.3