What is insect bites?
Most insect bites are harmless, though they sometimes cause discomfort. Bee, wasp, and hornet stings and fire ant bites usually hurt. Mosquito and flea bites usually itch. Insects can also spread diseases.
Insect bites and stings can cause 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.
How common is Insect Bites?
Insect bites are extremely common. It can affect patients at any age. It can be managed by reducing your risk factors. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.
What are the symptoms of insect bites?
Symptoms depend on the type of bite or sting. The common symptoms of Insect Bites are:
The symptoms will normally improve within a few hours or days, but sometimes they can last a little longer.
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:
- You’re worried about a bite or sting.
- Your symptoms don’t start to improve within a few days or are getting worse.
- You’ve been stung or bitten in your mouth or throat, or near your eyes.
- A large area (around 10cm or more) around the bite becomes red and swollen.
- You have symptoms of a wound infection, such as pus or increasing pain, swelling or redness.
- You have symptoms of a more widespread infection, such as a fever, swollen glands and other flu-like symptoms.
However, seek immediate treatment if you experience:
- Wheezing or difficulty breathing;
- A swollen face, mouth or throat;
- Nausea or vomiting;
- A fast heart rate;
- Dizziness or feeling faint;
- Difficulty swallowing;
- Loss of consciousness.
What causes insect bites?
Bites or stings from the hymenoptera family or species of insects, may cause serious reactions in people who are allergic to them even though they differ in how they inflict injury. In fact, death from bee stings is 3-4 times more common than death from snake bites.
Stinging insects include:
- Fire ants;
- Wasps (yellow jackets).
Biting and bloodsucking insects include:
- Flies (e.g., black flies, sand flies, deer flies, horse flies);
What increases my risk for insect bites?
There are many risk factors for Insect Bites, such as:
- 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 is insect bites diagnosed?
Most of the time, diagnosis is clear because you can identify the insect when it bites you. However sometimes a sting or a bite can appear much later without diagnostic identification. These bites are much more difficult to diagnose since the type of insect is unknown but the size and location of the bite will give an indication of possible sources of the bite.
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 pos for example). Some examples of diagnostic tests include:
- 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.
How is insect bites treated?
Insect bites and stings are common, and most are considered minor. 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.
Immunotherapy (de-sensitisation) is a possible treatment option if you are allergic to insect bites or stings. 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 insect bites?
The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you cope with Insect Bites:
- 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.
Review Date: December 5, 2016 | Last Modified: September 12, 2019
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Insect bites and stings. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/000033.htm. Accessed October 19, 2016.