What are bug bites and stings?

Bites or stings from insects or bees are very common and usually harmless. In some cases, an insect bite or sting can cause an allergic reaction or transmit diseases to a human.

Causes of bug bites and stings

Most insect bites or stings occur when a bug feels like its habitat is being disturbed. When the insect bites or stings you, it will inject venom that could cause an allergic reaction. Bee stings often cause swelling and redness at the affected site.

Risk factors for bug bites and stings

People are more likely to experience insect bites or stings if they spend time outdoors in wooded areas, live in areas of the world where insects are prevalent or have a history of anaphylactic response to a bug bite or sting.

Symptoms of bug bites or stings

Symptoms of bites or stings vary depending on the insect or bee that bit or stung you. Bites or bee stings from wasps, hornets and fire ants can be painful, turn red and potentially become inflamed.

Insect bites from mosquitoes, fleas or mites typically are itchy, red, mildly inflamed and cause mild irritation.

Diagnosis of bug bites or stings

Your primary care doctor can diagnose and treat most insect bites or stings.

Call 911 if you or your child experiences any of the following symptoms:

  • Hives all over the body
  • Swelling in the mouth, throat, lips or tongue
  • Losing consciousness

Contact your primary care doctor immediately if you or your child experiences any of the following symptoms:

  • Stomach pain or vomiting
  • Severe swelling around the affected site
  • Signs of infection including red streaks from the area, pus drainage or fever

Treatment for bug bites or stings

Most insect bites and stings can be treated at home. To relieve the symptoms of a bite or a sting follow these steps:

  1. Remain calm to reduce spread of venom
  2. Apply an ice pack to the affected area. Keep the area cool with ice or cold compresses for up to 6 hours
  3. Elevate bite or sting
  4. Take over-the-counter medications, such as an antihistamine to reduce inflammation or hydrocortisone to relieve pain and swelling.
  5. Apply warmth after 6 hours if swelling has subsided

If you have a severe reaction, you may need immediate medical treatment at the closest emergency room.

If you or your child is having an allergic reaction and/or the bite was caused by a black widow or brown recluse, visit the nearest emergency room right away. When possible, bring the insect that bit you so it can be identified.

If a mosquito bite caused malaria, West Nile virus, equine encephalitis, Zika virus, dengue or yellow fever, you will be referred to an infectious diseases specialist for further testing and care.

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