Venom immunotherapy for preventing allergic reactions to insect stings
At least 1 in 200 people have suffered a severe allergic reaction to a sting from a bee, wasp, or ant, and insect stings are the second most common cause of fatal allergic reactions in some countries. Treatment with insect venom, usually given by a course of injections (called venom immunotherapy), is thought to reduce the risk of allergic reactions to an insect sting. In this review, we evaluated the effectiveness of venom immunotherapy for preventing allergic reactions to insect stings.
From analysis of 7 studies, which included 392 participants, we found that this treatment reduces the chance of having a serious allergic reaction to an insect sting by 90%, a consistent finding between studies. Venom immunotherapy also significantly improves the quality of life of people who have had a serious allergic reaction to an insect sting by reducing anxiety and possible limitation of activities caused by fear of insects. However, almost 1 in 10 people treated with venom immunotherapy during the trials had an allergic reaction to their treatment. We were unable to find out whether venom immunotherapy prevents fatal allergic reactions to insect stings, because these are so rare. The decision whether to start venom immunotherapy depends on an accurate diagnosis, followed by careful assessment of a person's risk of having another allergic reaction to a sting, the degree to which the insect sting allergy affects their quality of life, and the risk of an allergic reaction to their treatment.
Boyle, R.J., Elremeli, M., Hockenhull, J., Cherry, M.G., Bulsara, M.K., et al. (2012). Venom immunotherapy for preventing allergic reactions to insect stings. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2012(10), doi:10.1002/14651858.CD008838.pub2