YANMD: Can reactions to insect bites get progressively worse?
June 4, 2013 7:26 PM   Subscribe

Whenever I get insect bites, they swell up a lot - more so than they seem to for most people. It seems to me that over the past few years, the reactions are getting progressively worse. Is this actually possible?

When I was a kid, I had fairly average reactions to mosquito and other bug bites - very minor swelling and itchiness. Over the past few years, I've had more significant reactions - I posted this question about two years ago (I never identified the bug - but had significant swelling). Last weekend, I got a mosquito bite. The bite itself was small, about half the size of a dime, but there was a red/swollen circle with a 2" diameter around it.

So, I'm wondering if it's possible to gradually get more sensitive to bug bites. And, if it is, I'm wondering if it's possible to develop an anaphylactic response when one has never had one before.

YANMD - and I already have an appointment with my doctor next week (mainly for an unrelated issue, but I am planning to bring this up as well). I'm just curious as to whether developing a more severe reaction to insect bites as an adult is possible/rare/common, and whether it says anything about someone's risk of developing an anaphylactic reaction.
posted by insectosaurus to Health & Fitness (11 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
This happened to me, but not gradually, at least from my point of view. I got stung by, I think, a yellowjacket, after many years of not being stung by any insects, and I had very bad pain and swelling. The sting was on my instep, and I could not even walk on that foot 8 hours later. In childhood I had suffered those stings frequently, and they were very painful, but they never blew up like that.
posted by thelonius at 7:31 PM on June 4, 2013

Allergic reactions to all kinds of things can change as you age, so yes. (I used to be only mildly allergic to certain kinds of shellfish, but reactions got noticeably stronger in my 20s.)
posted by rtha at 7:34 PM on June 4, 2013

I'm wondering if it's possible to develop an anaphylactic response when one has never had one before.

There's always a first time for anaphylaxis, and you can develop an anaphylactic allergy to something as an adult which you have not been allergic to previously. You can also have an anaphylactic reaction to something that previously only gave you hives/a skin reaction.

That being said, anaphylaxis to mosquito bites is rare. The more common insect bites for anaphylaxis are Hymenoptera (the family including bees and wasps), and people can definitely develop that reaction as an adult.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 7:35 PM on June 4, 2013 [4 favorites]

That's more than a possibility. That's actually very common. People eat kiwis (for example) for years and put up with the funny tingling in their face and mouth each time they do, because kiwis are delicious, only to one day have a full on medical emergency one time, seemingly completely out of nowhere.

I guess sensitization is the technical term.
posted by blue t-shirt at 7:48 PM on June 4, 2013

Anecdotally, yes - my reaction to bed bugs turned from mosquito-bite-like to massive welts several inches in diameter over the course of several miserable months trying to get rid of them. My mosquito bites seem worse since then, too. I have never had any anaphalaxis from any insect bites, but YMMV.
posted by randomnity at 7:59 PM on June 4, 2013

Definitely. My sensitivities to *everything* have gotten worse as I have gotten older - bug bites, scented products, certain sunscreens.
posted by radioamy at 8:02 PM on June 4, 2013

I've heard this is possible for fire ant stings (someone in my lab went into anaphylactic shock after his 3rd or 4th bite, but had been fine before), and that it's not unusual for scientists who study different stinging insects to develop allergies to them.
posted by unknowncommand at 8:54 PM on June 4, 2013

Yes. And also there are different species of insect biters that provoke different reactions - about 2/3 of my bites since moving to Louisiana end up looking like I got mauled at close range by a paintball gun in terms of size and bruising patterns, but 1/6 still look normal and 1/6 are tiny. My allergist is pretty unconcerned, though he did upon my request prescribe a stronger cortisone cream than you can get OTC.

(I've also found that the paintball-wound bites are way itchier. And the best way to get relief is to put them under a moving stream of barely-less-than-scalding water for a couple minutes. Like as close to burning as possible without actually causing burns. The heat releases the histamines all at once and so it itches like mad under the water but once you take it out of the water, it's numb for a few hours.)
posted by vegartanipla at 9:05 PM on June 4, 2013

At the beginning of mosquito season, I get large welts that are really itchy and sometimes painful. By fall, mosquito bites will be less inflamed and miserable.
posted by theora55 at 9:15 PM on June 4, 2013

Hiya, welcome to the wonderful world of making room in your purse for an EpiPen.

I always had problems with insect bites and it's gotten progressively worse over time. When I was a kid they were so concerning that I was taken to the ER because they were red, hot and the diameter of a saucer. While I haven't had a scary anaphalactic episode, it's not worth betting my life on it, so my doctor suggested that I carry an EpiPen.

They cost about $200 and they're good for a year. You get two in a pack. I keep one in my purse and the other at home.

I'm a first responder at work so I let everyone know:

1. Hey, I have an EpiPen, if I look like I'm in distress, help me with it.

2. If someone else is in distress, you can use mine.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:11 AM on June 5, 2013

This is absolutely possible; starting when I was about 18, I developed a SEVERE reaction to bug bites (one bite --> 50 massive bruises/welts all over my legs) that has persisted -- though the severity of my response has been inconsistent -- ever since. As far as we can tell in my case, it seems to be related to my general autoimmunity issues, coupled with an at-that-point undiagnosed bleeding condition.
posted by scody at 11:05 AM on June 5, 2013

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