Insect Bite

Some insects sting to protect themselves or their nests. These include bees, wasps, ants, and hornets. A sting causes a sharp burning pain. Other insects bite to feed. These include fleas, bedbugs, and mosquitoes. In some cases, the actual bite causes no pain. But after the bite there may be a local reaction. Both bites and stings can cause a local reaction that is an itchy red welt or swelling at the site. Most insect bites and stings don't cause illness. And the itching and swelling most often go away without treatment. But an infection can develop if the bite is scratched and the skin broken.

If a stinger is visible at the bite spot, remove it as quickly as possible. This can reduce the amount of venom that gets into your body. Scrape it out with a dull edge, such as the edge of a credit card. Try not to squeeze it. Don't try to dig it out. You may damage the skin and also increase the chance of infection.

In rare cases, a person may have an allergic reaction to an insect bite or sting. You can have a severe allergic reaction the first time you are bitten or stung. Severe allergic reactions are called anaphylaxis. This is a medical emergency. If you have symptoms listed below after a bite or a sting, have someone call 911.

Symptoms of an allergic reaction often develop quickly and include:

  • Skin symptoms, such as hives, redness, or swelling away from the area that was stung. For example, the face or lips may swell after being stung on the hand.

  • Belly cramps, nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea

  • Hoarse voice, shortness of breath, feeling that tongue is enlarged or throat is closing, and trouble breathing

  • Lightheadedness, dizziness, or passing out

A person holding an ice pack or cold towel on the bug bite.
To help reduce swelling and itching, apply a cold pack or ice in a zip-top plastic bag wrapped in a thin towel.

Home care

  • For local reactions to stings or bites, your healthcare provider may prescribe over-the-counter medicines such as calamine lotion or antihistamines. These can help ease itching and swelling. Use each medicine according to the directions on the package. If the sting or bite gets infected, you will need an antibiotic. This is rare. This may be in pill form taken by mouth. Or it may be as an ointment or cream put directly on the skin. Be sure to use them exactly as prescribed.

  • Bite symptoms often go away on their own in a week or two.

  • To help prevent infection, don't scratch or pick at the bite.

  • To help ease itching and swelling, apply ice to the bites. Do this for up to 10 minutes at a time. Don't take hot showers or baths. These often make itching worse. To make an ice pack, put ice cubes in a zip-top plastic bag that seals at the top. Wrap the bag in a clean, thin towel or cloth. Never put ice or an ice pack directly on the skin.

  • If you think you have insects in your home, talk with a licensed pest-control professional. They can inspect your home and tell you how to get rid of bugs safely.

Follow-up care

Follow up with your healthcare provider, or as advised.

Call 911

Call 911 if any of these occur:

  • Trouble breathing or swallowing

  • Wheezing

  • Feeling like your throat is closing up

  • Fainting, loss of consciousness

  • Swelling around the face or mouth

When to get medical advice

Call your healthcare provider right away if any of these occur:

  • Fever of 100.4°F (38°C) or higher, or as advised by your provider

  • Signs of infection, such as increased swelling and pain, warmth, red streaks, or drainage from the skin

  • Signs of allergic reaction, such as hives, a spreading rash, or throat itching

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