Key Points about Insect Bites and Stings

  • Insect bites and stings often cause redness, swelling, itching and stinging.
  • Wearing bright or floral clothing, scented lotions or perfumes, and clothes with exposed arms or legs can increase your risk of getting bitten or stung.
  • Most bites and stings can be treated at home by applying ice, using certain creams, and taking an antihistamine.

Call 911 after a bite or sting if you develop swelling in the face, fever, rapid heartrate or impaired breathing.

Overview

Insect bites and stings often cause irritating but relatively mild and harmless symptoms, such as redness, swelling, itching and stinging. Most bites and stings are harmless, unless the insect infects you with a disease they are carrying, or if you have an allergic reaction.

You may be more likely to experience bites or stings if you wear bright or floral clothing, scented lotions or perfumes, and clothes with exposed arms or legs.

Most bites and stings are harmless, unless the insect infects you with a disease they are carrying, or if you have an allergic reaction. Mild bites and stings can be treated at home. If you experience additional symptoms after a bite or sting such as swelling in the face, fever, rapid heartrate or impaired breathing, seek immediate emergency medical attention.

Bites and stings causes

Insects may bite humans when they feel that they or their habitat are being threatened.

When an insect bite or sting injects venom into your skin, your body mounts a response that causes skin to swell, itch, or sting.

Bites and stings risk factors

Anyone spending time outside is at risk of experiencing an insect bite or sting. Factors that may increase your chances include:

  • Wearing bright or floral-patterned clothing
  • Wearing scented lotions or perfumes
  • Having open food or drinks
  • Wearing clothes with exposed arms and legs
  • Spending time outside during the summer

Bites and stings symptoms

Common symptoms of mild bites and stings include:

  • Redness
  • A rash
  • Swelling
  • Itching
  • A stinging feeling

In addition to the above symptoms, you may experience the following if you are having an allergic reaction to a bite or sting:

  • Hives
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • An itching or tingling sensation in the mouth

If you develop the following symptoms, you may be experiencing anaphylaxis. Anaphylaxis can be life-threatening and requires immediate medical attention.

  • Impaired breathing
  • Swollen throat, eyelids, or lips
  • A fast heart-rate
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Feeling dizzy or confused

Bites and stings complications

While most bites and stings are harmless, some can lead to serious complications. Some insects may carry diseases such as Lyme or malaria, which can infect you after a bite or sting.

Other bites and stings can cause allergic reactions or anaphylaxis in some people.

Bites and stings prevention

Bites and stings can be prevented by:

  • Applying insect repellent
  • Covering food and drinks, which may attract insects
  • Refrain from applying perfumes and scented personal care products when you anticipate spending time outside
  • Wear neural colors instead of bright or floral patterns
  • Wearing long pants and shirts

Bites and stings diagnosis

Most bites and stings do not require medical diagnosis.

Bites and stings treatment

Most bites and stings can be treated at home by taking the following steps:

  • Relocating yourself away from the area to avoid further bites and stings
  • Remove any stinger from your skin, if present
  • Wash the bite or sting with soap and water
  • Apply a cool, damp washcloth to alleviate swelling
  • Use calamine lotion, baking soda, or hydrocortisone cream on the bite or sting
  • Try an oral antihistamine to regulate itching sensations

If your bite or sting infected you with a disease such as malaria or Lyme, your doctor will provide treatment for those conditions.

If you are experiencing anaphylaxis, administer your prescribed epinephrine auto-injector. If you have not been prescribed an epinephrine auto-injector, if you do not have it on your person, or if you are experiencing a severe allergic reaction for the first time, call 911 immediately. You should still seek medical attention after administering your epinephrine auto-injector, as symptoms can return once the medication wears off.

When to seek care

Call 911 or your local emergency number if you are experiencing symptoms of anaphylaxis.

Next Steps

Mild bites and stings should go away without treatment within several days. If your bite or sting infected you with malaria or Lyme disease, you may require more complex, long-term treatment.