Posted: May 2023
(4 Minute Read)
The positives of summer: sunshine, warmer weather, longer days, and plenty of outdoor activities. The negatives: a higher risk of being stung or bit by something unpleasant. There are several types of insects you are likely to encounter at home or outdoors that can cause painful or irritating symptoms. Understanding which insects to look out for and how to treat bug bites to reduce itching, swelling and other symptoms can help keep your family safe and healthy.
Insects and arachnids that bite:
· Deer flies
· Fire ants
· Blister beetles
Insects that sting:
· Yellow jackets
Dangers of Bug Bites
While getting bitten or stung can cause mild to severe, temporary pain, several potential complications can occur, including:
It is estimated that up to 5% of the general population in the United States may have an allergy to bug bites and stings. Allergic reactions to bug bites occur when the immune system reacts abnormally to the saliva or venom of an insect. Individuals who have experienced severe or concerning reactions to insect bites or stings should seek medical attention and consider carrying an epinephrine auto-injector in case of a severe allergic reaction in the future.
Mosquito, tick, and flea bites can transmit harmful and potentially life-threatening diseases to humans. Flea bites can cause flea-borne typhus and cat scratch fever, while tick bites can lead to Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever and tick-borne encephalitis. Mosquito bites can transmit the West Nile virus, Zika virus, and malaria.
When a bug bite breaks the skin, it creates a pathway for bacteria to enter the body, leading to infection. Signs of infection can include redness, swelling, warmth, and pus. An infection can lead to more serious complications, such as cellulitis, if left untreated.
Bug Bite Treatment
If you have been bitten or stung by an insect, there are several treatments available to alleviate painful or irritating symptoms, including:
Those itchy red bumps are the body’s reaction to the insect’s saliva. When a bug bites your skin and sucks blood, some of the saliva is exchanged into the bloodstream. These bumps can be extremely irritating – and so hard not to scratch! But it’s extremely important to not scratch them, as they can become infected. To alleviate swelling and itching, thoroughly wash the area with soap and water, then apply a 1% hydrocortisone cream, diphenhydramine cream or calamine lotion. Additionally, you can take an over the counter oral antihistamine to help.
If you don’t have either of these readily available, make a paste out of baking soda and water and apply to the bite. You can also try wrapping ice in a wet wash cloth and hold it to the affected area for about 20 minutes.
Ninety five percent of stings are from honey bees or yellow jackets. Unfortunately for painful stings, steroid creams and allergy medicines won’t do the trick. The first step is to remove the stinger if it is still in your body. If the stinger has already buried itself underneath the surface of the skin, do not remove. If the tip of it is above the skin, use a cleaned edge of a credit card or another sturdy thin flat surface to glide along the skin and remove it from a 90-degree angle. If you pull at it with tweezers, it can simply snap off and the rest will remain in your skin. Once the stinger has been removed, wash the area with soap and warm water.
Use an OTC pain reliever such as acetaminophen, ibuprofen, or naproxen to help alleviate the pain. An ice cube wrapped in a wet wash cloth applied to the sting area for about 20 minutes should also help.
If a tick is found attached to the skin, remove it as soon as possible by using fine-tipped tweezers. Grasp the tick as close to the skin’s surface as possible. Pull upwards with steady, even pressure and don’t twist or jerk while removing, as this may cause the mouth-parts to break off and stay in the skin. If this does occur, remove the parts with tweezers. If unable to remove easily, leave parts alone and allow the skin to heal.
Never crush the tick with your fingers. Dispose of a live tick by placing it in alcohol, putting it in a sealed bag/container, wrapping it tightly in tape, or flushing it down the toilet. If you are unable to remove the tick, contact a physician.
Severe reactions to bites and stings
In rare instances, some people can experience extreme reactions to bug bites, spider bites, or bee stings, including anaphylaxis. If you or someone you are with experiences any of the following symptoms, stop what you are doing and get to a hospital or call 911 immediately.
· Difficulty breathing or swallowing. Though this usually appears in the first 20 minutes, it can take up to 2 hours for symptoms to appear.
· Muscle pain or cramping
Severe reactions are most common with bee, wasp, or fire ant stings. Reactions to other insect bites are rare, since other insects don’t produce venom.
Though uncommon, if you are bitten by a Black Widow spider, seek immediate medical attention.
· Try to avoid spending time outdoors during sunrise or sunset when bugs like mosquitoes are most active. Avoid, or be vigilant, in areas with stagnant or standing water, like lakes or ponds. Also, make sure that buckets, planters, and other containers around your yard are emptied of rainwater.
· Wear shoes with closed toes, shirts with long sleeves and pants. Bonus, this also helps to prevent sunburns!
· Use an EPA-registered insect repellent with one of the following active ingredients: DEET, picaridin, IR3535, oil of lemon eucalyptus (OLE), para-menthane-diol (PMD), or 2-undecanone.
o Always follow the product’s instructions and reapply as directed.
o Do not apply repellant on skin under clothing.
o If you are also wearing sunscreen, apply your sunscreen first, let it dry, and then apply the insect repellent.
o When applying to a child:
- Do not use OLE or PMD on children under 3 years of age.
- Do not apply to child’s hands, eyes, mouth, cuts, or irritated skin.
- To apply to the child’s face, the adult should spray the insect repellent onto their hands and then apply to the child's face.
· If you know wasps are present in your area, do regular sweeps of the immediate area to eliminate growing nests in bushes, eaves, or under rooflines. Be sure to watch your step during your inspection. Wasps can also build nests in the ground, which can cause painful and traumatic encounters for unsuspecting pets and children.
· Check your body and clothes for ticks after coming indoors and shower within 2 hours to help wash off unattached ticks and help reduce the risk of getting Lyme disease. Ticks can look like a speck of dirt or a freckle.
That said, we hope you all have a bite-free, sting-free summer!