What are bites and stings?
Insect bites are puncture wounds, or lacerations, caused by insects. When an insect bites, it releases a form of saliva that can cause painful symptoms or an immediate skin reaction.
The bite from fire ants and the sting from bees, wasps, and hornets are most often painful. Bites caused by mosquitoes, fleas, and mites are more likely to cause itching than pain. Insect and spider bites cause more deaths from venom reactions than bites from snakes.
Not all bites or stings are the same. You will need different first aid treatment and medical care depending on what type of creature has bitten or stung you. Some species can cause more damage than others. Some people also have allergies that raise the risk of a serious reaction.
How common are bites and stings?
Bites and stings are extremely common. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.
What are the symptoms of bites and stings?
Symptoms depend on the type of bite or sting. They may include:
Some people have severe, life-threatening reactions to bee stings or insect bites. This is called anaphylactic shock. This condition can occur very quickly and lead to rapid death if not treated quickly.
Symptoms of anaphylaxis can occur quickly and affect the whole body. They include:
- Chest pain
- Face or mouth swelling
- Difficulty swallowing
- Difficulty breathing
- Fainting or lightheadedness
- Abdominal pain or vomiting
- Rash or flushing
There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.
When should I see my doctor?
You should contact your doctor if you have any of the following:
- Difficulty breathing
- Swelling of the lips, eyelids or throat
- Dizziness, faintness or confusion
- Rapid heartbeat
- Nausea, cramps or vomiting
- A scorpion sting and is a child
Common stinging insects include:
- fire ants
- wasps (yellow jackets)
Common biting and bloodsucking insects include:
- flies (e.g., black flies, sand flies, deer flies, horse flies)
What increases my risk for bites and stings?
You are more likely to be bitten by an insect if you work outdoors or regularly take part in outdoor activities such as camping or hiking. If large areas of your skin are exposed, such as on your arms or legs, these areas are more are more vulnerable to being bitten by an insect. Risk factors for insect bites and stings include:
- dark clothing
- eating outside
- exposure to hives or nests
- floral perfume
- loose clothing
- participating in outdoor recreation
- working outside
Diagnosis & treatment
The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information
How are bites and stings diagnosed?
Diagnosis of an insect bite begins with a medical history and physical exam. Tests are not normally required to diagnose bee stings and insect bites. Diagnostic tests are only likely to be of use if an insect is found on or in the skin to confirm if it is carrying an illness, or not. Your doctor will also recommend possible treatment for an insect bite or sting based by ruling out other diagnostic possibilities (shingles, or chicken pox for example).
- Insect venom allergy test – A diagnostic test that might be valuable is an insect venom allergy test. This involves scratching the skin with tiny doses of various insect venoms and looking for the size of the hive that results to measure the allergic reaction to the individual insect venom.
- Lyme disease test – If a tick is pulled out of the skin, it should be checked for Borrelia burgdorferi, the cause of Lyme disease, if the person was in an infested area.
Bug bites and stings usually are just annoying and manifest no serious or lasting health problems. But on occasion, they can cause infections that require treatment. Or allergic reactions can be serious or fatal and require emergency help.
How are bites and stings treated?
Insect bites and stings are common, and most are considered minor. It is only when the insect is poisonous, carries disease or when a person has an allergic reaction to a bite that the situation becomes an emergency. Even under those conditions, accurate diagnosis and prompt treatment can save lives and prevent permanent tissue damage
Most insect bites result in small, local reactions whose symptoms are easily treated. In fact, home treatment is the only thing that is required to relieve the symptoms of a mild reaction to common stinging or biting insects.
If you are allergic to bites and stings, immunotherapy (desensitisation) is a possible treatment option. Venom immunotherapy can help prevent systemic reactions in people who are sensitive to insect stings or bites.
Lifestyle changes & Home remedies
What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage bites and stings?
The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you cope with bites and stings:
- Blisters – Do not burst blisters that are caused by an insect bite, as they can become infected. In fact, blisters cause pain when they rupture and exposure tender skin underneath. If possible, use an adhesive bandage to protect the blistered area.
- Generalized urticaria – If you notice small, itchy lumps or lesions on or near the bite site, your doctor may prescribe an oral antihistamine and an oral corticosteroid, such as prednisolone to treat the local area. If symptoms worsen, seek medical help.
- Local reactions (large) – Large, local reactions can be treated using a short course of an oral antihistamine and/or oral analgesics. If local swelling is severe, your doctor may prescribe a short course of oral steroids.
- Local reactions (small) – Small, local reactions that are confined to the area of the bite can be treated using a cold compress and/or oral NSAIDs, such as aspirin, paracetamol or ibuprofen. Anaesthetic, steroid cream or antihistamine tablets can also help soothe the pain of a bite. Do not apply cream or ointment to broken skin and always follow the instructions on the packet. Although the bite may be itchy, avoid scratching it because you may damage the skin and allow bacteria to get in, leading to infection.
If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.
Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.
- Insect Bites. http://ehealthforum.com/health/insect_bites-e424.html. Accessed 10 Jan 2017
- Insect bites and stings: First aid. http://www.mayoclinic.org/first-aid/first-aid-insect-bites/basics/art-20056593. Accessed 10 Jan 2017
- Insect bites and stings. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/000033.htm. Accessed 10 Jan 2017
- First Aid for Bites and Stings. http://www.healthline.com/health/first-aid/bites-stings#Overview1. Accessed 10 Jan 2017
Review Date: June 16, 2017 | Last Modified: June 16, 2017