Insect Bites & Stings: When Is It Time to See the Doctor?

In most instances, a painful insect bite or a sting is harmless, but there are times when they can be dangerous. This is true for people who are allergic to insect venom, or if the bug is a disease carrier. In the U.S., there are many common bug bites and stings:

  • Fleas
  • Mosquitos
  • Spiders
  • Wasps
  • Bees
  • Hornets
  • Biting flies
  • Mites
  • Ticks
  • Fire ants
  • Bed bugs

Home Remedies for Insect Bites

Most of the time, insect bites can be treated effectively without medical interaction. Home remedies for insect bites include applying an ice pack to the affected area for 15-20 minutes, every hour, for the first six hours. When the ice is not being used, keep a wet, cool cloth on the bug bite or sting for up to six hours. Never place ice directly on the skin. Do not keep an ice pack on the insect bite for longer than 20-minute intervals. Elevate the area to decrease swelling.

Medicines for Insect Bites

Topical medicines for insect bites include hydrocortisone cream or ointment, or calamine lotion. A local anesthetic spray containing benzocaine may help relieve discomfort from a painful insect bite. A nonprescription oral antihistamine can also be taken to reduce the itch.

At times, an insect bite or sting evolves into something more serious, particularly if a person has been attacked by a swarm of bugs or experiences an allergic reaction. In these cases, get to an urgent care center immediately, or if you ever experience the following symptoms after getting an insect bite or a sting:

  • Difficult or labored breathing
  • If you feel like your throat is closing
  • Swelling of the lips, mouth or face
  • Chest pain
  • Racing heartbeat
  • Dizziness
  • Vomiting
  • Headache
  • A red rash shaped like a donut or a target that appears after a tick bite; this may be a sign of Lyme disease
  • A black or red spotted rash that appears with a fever, following a tick bite; this may indicate Rocky Mountain spotted fever

Both Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever need to be treated with antibiotics immediately. If not, conditions like these can become severe, even fatal.

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