You probably coexist every day with bugs without much fuss. That is, until you feel a little bite or sting. Bug bites and stings are often harmless and simply irritating. There are also plenty of home and over-the-counter remedies to take the sting away.
Sometimes though, a bug bite or sting requires a visit to the doctor or hospital. Here’s how to know when it’s time to seek medical care.
Bug bite reactions
Flying insects like mosquitoes, flies, bees and wasps can be annoying. Crawling bugs, such as bedbugs, spiders, ticks and fire ants, are also bothersome. It can be tough to figure out what insect bit or stung you. There are a few telltale signs though, including these:
- Bedbugs: If bedbugs bite you indoors, you’ll develop red, itchy, welt-like marks on your body.
- Fire ants: If you’re stung outdoors by red fire ants, you’ll know it from the intense burning sensation at the bite sites. This lasts a few hours or days.
- Flying insects: If you get a sting or bite from a flying insect, you’ll usually get itchy red bumps that clear up in a day or two. There are many different flies, but black fly bites leave small puncture wounds and cause what seems like allergic reactions. Bees and wasps leave their stingers or they fall off your skin right away. This leaves a red mark.
- Spiders: When a harmless spider bites you, their small fangs feel like pinpricks. The bite will turn into a small red mark that may look like a whitehead.
- Ticks: If you get a tick bite, look for two rashes. One is a red bullseye rash, which requires antibiotics for Lyme disease. A Rocky Mountain spotted fever infection needs immediate treatment. This looks like a red rash made of tiny dots.
Some bites and stings look and feel worse than they are. A red, swollen mark shouldn’t alarm you unless you have other symptoms. Treat swollen bites and stings on your body with a medicine from your local pharmacy. You can rub these directly onto your skin. Consider a hydrocortisone cream or ointment that takes away the itchiness and reduces swelling. An oral antihistamine can also work. This is a medicine that reduces the itch.
You can make quick home remedies that can offer immediate relief by simply using items in your kitchen. These ingredients have germ-fighting and anti-swelling properties. Typically, you’ll want to minimize the itching and swelling by doing the following for a bite or sting:
- Apply witch hazel, a natural astringent, to the bite.
- Cut any onion, or a garlic bulb. Apply the cut side to the bite for a few minutes.
- Ice the area with crushed ice for five minutes.
- Mix a paste of oatmeal and water, or baking soda and water. Keep it on the bite for 10 minutes. Wipe it clean.
- Put a drop of honey on a bite. Cover this with a bandage to minimize messes.
- Soak a washcloth in a mix of cold water and vinegar and hold it on the bite for 20 minutes.
When to see a doctor
There are certain times a doctor should handle stubborn marks from a bite or sting. For example, if a tick bites you, but you can’t fully remove it, see a doctor. If the site of the bite or sting appears red, hot and swollen, see your doctor. This could be an infection.
Ignoring a bug bite can lead to cellulitis, a common bacterial skin infection that needs antibiotics. Contact your doctor if you see red streaks, spots or dimpling or feel tenderness that won’t go away.
Bon Secours has many telehealth options to help you treat any pesky bug bites or stings this summer. Our video visits and Evisit services allow you to connect with one of our primary care providers from the comfort of your own home.
When to go to the ER
Head to your nearest hospital emergency room if you feel the following symptoms after a bug bites or stings you. You may be allergic to the insect that you encountered and need immediate medical care.
- Breathing problems
- Flu-like symptoms (body aches, joint pain)
- Large, swollen hives
- Nausea and vomiting
- Pain in your chest
- Racing heartbeat
- Swollen face or lips and tongue
- Tight or closing throat
Learn about the health care services offered at Bon Secours.