Bug Bites: How to Stop Them and Avoid Dangers

When it’s time for you and your family to be outdoors, it’s the ideal time to bone up on what different bug, insect and spider bites and stings can do. It’s especially important if you have sensitivities or allergies to bites or stings.

Prevent Bites and Stings

Before you head outdoors, you can take some steps to reduce your chances of getting bit or stung.

  • Use an appropriate insect repellent.
    • Protect against mosquitoes and ticks with a repellent with 15 to 30 percent Deet. Higher percentages aren’t more effective and can cause side effects such as a rash. Use a lower-concentration of Deet on children.
    • For a naturally occurring repellent alternative, try a compound with 30 percent oil of lemon eucalyptus.
  • Use footwear and clothing that protects your skin. Wear long-sleeve shirts when you can. In the woods and tall grass, wear shoes and pants. Tuck your pant leg into your socks. Choose light-colored clothing that isn’t brightly colored.
  • Avoid sweet-smelling perfumes, colognes, hair spray and deodorant.
  • Avoid drinking from beverage cans. Insects can be attracted and crawl inside the can. Then they can sting your mouth.
  • When eating outside, keep food covered when you can.
  • If you find yourself around a hive or nest, avoid quick, jerky movements. Do not swat at a flying insect or bug. If you need to, gently brush it away or simply wait for it to leave.

If you learn you’re allergic to insect, bug or spider bites or stings, check with your health care provider about preparing an emergency kit that may include epinephrine. Your provider can discuss what to include in the kit and how to use a epinephrine injector.

Signs of a Bite or Sting

More than 500,000 Americans visit emergency rooms every year because of bites or stings. For some of us, bug, insect or spider bites or stings can result in:

  • Itching
  • Redness
  • Swelling
  • Some pain
  • Numbness
  • Tingling
  • Burning

First Aid for Stings or Bites

If stung, remove the stinger. Scrape the back of a credit card or other straight-edged object across the stinger. Do not use tweezers. They can squeeze venom into the skin.

  • Wash the site of the sting with soap and water.
  • Place ice wrapped in fabric on the sting. Ice for 10 minutes. Take it off for 10 minutes. Repeat.
  • An antihistamine taken by mouth or applied to skin in a lotion can help reduce itching.
  • Watch for signs of infection.
  • See your health care provider if the bite or sting unexpectedly gets worse over time.

Symptoms of Severe Allergy

It’s estimated that 90 to 100 deaths happen annually due to severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) caused by a bite or sting.

Anaphylaxis can result in:

  • Face or mouth swelling.
  • Difficulty swallowing.
  • Difficulty breathing.
  • Chest pain.
  • Abdominal pain or vomiting.
  • Fainting or lightheadedness.
  • Rash or flushing.

First Aid for a Severe Allergic Reaction

Call 911 if the victim has:

  • Trouble breathing, wheezing, shortness of breath.
  • Swelling anywhere on their face or in the mouth.
  • Throat tightness or difficulty swallowing.
  • Weak feeling.
  • Blue skin color.

In case of a severe allergic reaction, the National Institutes of Health suggests these steps:

  • Keep the victim calm.
  • Remove rings and jewelry from the area that’s been bitten or stung. The area may swell.
  • If one is available, use the victim’s emergency kit. Follow the directions for the epinephrine injector.
  • Remain with the individual until medical professionals arrive.

Bites and Stings to Beware Of

Some bites and stings can be more of a problem.

  • Mosquitoes can carry maladies such as West Nile virus. Although the number of cases in Wisconsin and Minnesota are limited, travelers should be aware of the disease’s prevalence in areas they’re visiting. Cases of West Nile virus have been found in nearly all states, but cases are more common in states such as Illinois, California, Colorado, South Dakota and Texas.

    Some mosquitoes carry the Zika virus. If you’re planning on a pregnancy, you should inform yourself about Zika, especially if you plan to travel.
  • Ticks can carry Lyme disease. Wisconsin and Minnesota are states where cases are somewhat common. The disease is most common on the northeastern seaboard. Tick bites associated with Lyme's Disease can appear as bullseyes. If a tick is present, they should be removed immediately and if possible saved and brought to their physician's office for identification. The CDC has more info about Lyme disease.
  • Spider bites can look like a mosquito bite, but a closer look may reveal red fang marks.

    If you have a spider bite, first aid is similar to a sting: Wash the bite with soap and water. Apply a cool compress.

    Some venomous spider bites can be dangerous.

    Black widow spider bites require immediate emergency care. If you suspect a black widow spider bite, immediately see a health care provider. Anti-venom may be part of the treatment. With a black widow bite, you may notice redness, itching, burning, swelling, tenderness and shooting pain. Other possible symptoms include muscle stiffness, nausea and/or vomiting, breathing difficulties, abdominal pain, sweating and weakness or tremors.

    Black widow spiders are found throughout North America.

    Brown recluse spider bites can also be harmful. If you think you may have been bitten by a brown recluse spider, promptly see a health care provider. If you’re bitten by a brown recluse spider, at first it may appear to be a common bug bite. But within hours you may notice a red ring or bull’s eye around the bite. Two to eight hours later, you may experience severe pain at the bite site, excessive itching, nausea, vomiting, fever and muscle pain.

    The brown recluse, or violin spider, is commonly found in the Midwest and southern U.S.

Depending on where you go, other bugs, insects and spiders may be common. If you’re traveling and concerned about bites and stings, research local insect, bug and spider bites and how to identify biters and stingers.

Your health care provider can discuss treatment for common allergies, including to insect, bug and spider bites and stings.

Get more helpful family health information at the Aurora Health Care Facebook page.

Meet the Author

Vanessa L Abejuela-Matt, DO is a family practice physician at the Aurora Health Center in Racine, WI

Read more posts from this author

The information presented in this site is intended for general information and educational purposes. It is not intended to replace the advice of your own physician. Contact your physician if you believe you have a health problem.

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