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  • Writer's pictureTy Bailey

Dealing with Bug Bites and Stings

Spring is here, and summer is just around the corner. Bugs of all types (and attitudes) are coming out of the woodwork. Here's how to deal with any stings or bites from the rudest of these creepy crawlers.

The grass is growing, the flowers are blooming, and the bugs are officially back in action. The warmer months of the year may feel great for going outdoors and finally shedding a few layers after being bundled up for so many weeks, but most of us still have to deal with the crazy amount of insects that come out to play, pollinating and causing a bit of biting and stinging chaos before dying off again.

Living in coastal Alabama, the amount of bugs we deal with here just gets ridiculous once the weather warms up. It gets absolutely beautiful here far earlier than most other places, but it rapidly devolves into a battle against every flying monster known to man. Wasps, mosquitoes, and these horrible little invisible monsters known as "no-see-ums" that will eat you alive down here are just relentless. My partner is a grass fanatic, so we do quite well in our fights against the fire ants, but we still occasionally have unfortunate moments of stings and bug bites occurring.

Here's a guide for how to handle any bites or stings you or your kids may experience when spending time outdoors. As long as none of you have any specific insect-related allergies, you're generally going to be fine and can simply manage the discomfort as directed below. If you're at risk for having more severe allergic reactions to insect bites and stings, check the very last section of this article for how to proceed regarding medical care.

How to Deal with Ant Bites

Regular ant bites are no fun at all, but they generally will just cause some swelling and mild irritation along with itchiness at the site of the bite/sting. Most ants will attack humans out of fear, due to our size and likely having stepped on their home or in their way without having noticed. Feeling the need to defend themselves, they will bite and sting in retaliation. This will often leave you with small, blister-like spots and some general swelling, itching, and discomfort.

Dealing with something like fire ants is a bit different, though. These red devils will latch onto you with extremely hard bites and sting you as many times as possible. Aside from the pain caused by this initial instance of aggression, their venom is also incredibly potent and can even be fatal in some cases. They are the absolute worst, and their presence (and bites) should be taken very seriously, especially when it comes to children, the elderly, or those with certain health conditions.

If you've been bitten or stung by an ant, there are a few things you can do to help alleviate some of the discomfort:

  • As with any injury or bite, be sure to wash the area thoroughly with soap and water.

  • Keeping the bitten or stung body part elevated will help reduce the amount of swelling taking place.

  • You can use hydrocortisone creams/sprays, aloe vera, or calamine lotion to help alleviate some of the itching and soothe the irritated skin.

  • Try using an ice pack in intervals to help numb the bite site and reduce inflammation.

As a word of caution, try your best to avoid scratching, puncturing, or popping the blister that forms at the site of an ant bite as these bites can get infected and cause some serious health issues.

Additionally, if you're beginning to feel nauseated, dizzy, unwell in general, or begin having oral swelling or trouble breathing (especially after being bitten and stung numerous times by fire ants), call 911 and immediately attempt to get help from a medical professional as you may be experiencing a life-threatening reaction to the ant venom.

How to Deal with Bee or Wasp Stings

As long as you're not someone who is at risk of having a severe allergic reaction to a bee or wasp sting, basic first aid practices are generally enough to manage the unpleasant effects of having had an insect stinger inject venom into you. (This information also applies to stings from yellow jackets, hornets, and other similar flying insects.)

Here are the steps to manage a wasp or bee sting:

  • Before anything else, try to make sure you remove the stinger to avoid further release of the offending insect's venom.

  • Gently wash the sting site with soap and water, being sure to clean it well but not be too rough.

  • Antihistamine cream is a great option for helping reduce some of the itching and inflammation.

  • Using an ice pack on the stung area of skin is a good, non-medicinal way to alleviate some of the pain and swelling as well. (However, it's recommended that you place a cloth between your skin and the ice to avoid irritation from the skin becoming too cold.)

  • It's also safe to take an oral antihistamine (such as Benadryl) or take some ibuprofen or acetaminophen to lessen the pain levels if you're in a lot of discomfort.

Another issue that's worth noting is the need for a tetanus shot if you or your children have not had one in a while. Since the skin will be broken upon being stung, this can allow bacteria to enter the small wound and cause infection.

If you've only been stung once by either of these insects, the medical care recommendations above should be perfectly sufficient. However, if you've been stung multiple times or are significant younger, older, or have immune system concerns, you will very likely need to consult a medical professional (either by calling 911 and having emergency services come out or by setting up an appointment with your family doctor within that same day).

If you or your children have been stung and begin having hives or a rash spread across the body, trouble breathing, or a drop in blood pressure, this is a medical emergency and you'll need to call 911 immediately. Stinging insect allergies are actually somewhat common, so these individuals will need immediate medical attention. For those who are aware of having such allergies, you should also be sure to carry a "Bee Sting Kit" with you at all times in the event such a sting takes place. The EpiPen included in these kits could save your life in the moments before emergency medical services can arrive.

How to Deal with Mosquito Bites

Going in or near water in the spring and summer sound like such good ideas to combat the heat, but unfortunately, water is also a prime breeding ground for mosquitoes. There are quite a few different types, but in general, females mosquitoes are larger than their male counterparts, and it's these females that will bite and suck your blood.

Mosquitoes can not only spread germs and disease through their bites, but they also leave behind their saliva (which stop the blood they're drinking from clotting) when snacking on us. This saliva is what causes allergic reactions like the common red, itchy bumps you've likely experienced after being bitten by one of these rude creatures.

Here are a few ways to alleviate that horrible itching:

  • Just like the other bites and stings, be sure to wash the bite area well with soap and water to reduce your chances of infection.

  • Anti-histamine creams (and sprays) tend to work quite well for most people suffering with mosquito bites. These are generally over-the-counter products that are affordable and easy to find.

  • You can also trying making your own mixture of baking soda and water, forming a paste to apply to the bite. You'll let this sit for a few minutes and then wash it off with water.

  • As mentioned with the other bites/stings causing swelling, an ice pack is a great way to help reduce inflammation as well as provide some pain relief by numbing the area.

  • If all else fails or you are having a more significant reaction to a mosquito bite (or if you've received multiple ones), you can also take an oral antihistamine (e.g., Benadryl) or some acetaminophen or ibuprofen to help alleviate your symptoms.

For some people, the reactions to mosquito bites may be more severe than just an itchy red bump. Although a life-threatening reaction is incredibly rare for such a bite, it's still possible. Quite a few people may simply have a reaction that is much stronger than the average person, though. Instead of a red, swollen, itchy bite spot, they may experience hives, enough swelling to cause a limb to puff up for a while, have swelling occur in their joints, or get a fever. Although these side effects may be a bit concerning, they are generally harmless and simply uncomfortable, and they can be managed with over-the-counter medications and creams.

If your bite appears to have become infected (especially for those of you who can't stop scratching!), be sure to see your family physician in case you may need antibiotics or some other form of treatment to resolve the problem.

How to Deal with Spider Bites

Spider bites sound a lot scarier than they really are, as long as you aren't bitten by certain types. Generally, an average spider bite is about the same as any other insect bite: it leaves behind a sore, itchy, and red bump. If you or your child have been bitten by a highly venomous species of spider (such as a brown recluse or black widow), seek immediate medical attention as their bites can be life-threatening.

For all other spider bites, here are some care tips until the effects of the venom have passed:

  • Yet again, clean the spider bite well with soap and water to remove any dirt and bacteria that may try to enter the wound.

  • If possible, try to elevate wherever the bite occurred, such as propping up your arm or leg if the bite occurred on one of those limbs.

  • Using an ice pack is great for reducing the swelling and pain caused by a spider bite.

  • If the itching is problematic, you can use an antihistamine cream or spray on the afflicted area to alleviate some of the irritation.

  • You may also take oral pain relievers, such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen, or oral antihistamines to alleviate symptoms as well.

It cannot be stressed enough that if your symptoms begin to worsen, you're unsure of the type of spider that bit you, or the bite spot starts to look infected, you need to go to your nearest emergency room or set up a visit with a trusted family doctor as soon as possible. Spider bites can be mild, but they can also become serious very quickly. It is also possible for individuals to have an allergy to spider venom, just the same as with stinging insect venom, so these particular folks need to be especially cautious and seek medical care ASAP if they've been bitten.

As a side note, we're huge spider fans in our household as they're so incredibly effective at keeping out all of the other harmful bugs and flying insects that try to make their way in and bite us, many of which can cause some serious issues. As a "friend of the spiders," I cannot recommend enough to educate yourself on the different species in your area to learn which spiders are harmless and beneficial to the environment as well as learn to identify those that are venomous, aggressive, and in rapid need of some shoe-smashing action if you find them in your home.

How to Deal with Ticks

If you love playing in the outdoors, you likely know of the risk of picking up ticks while out. These gross little buggers like to bite, hang on, and swell up big with their victim's blood—not something any of us want to deal with! However, they do exist, so it's good to know what to do if you find one on your clothing or skin or you've been bitten by one.

If a tick is simply on your clothing or skin:

  • Remove the tick immediately. It's best to either hold onto it (if you've been bitten or suspect such), or flush it down the toilet. If you need to save the tick for identification purposes, you can submerge it in alcohol and then place it in a secure storage container. When handling ticks, always be sure to wear gloves and use tweezers.

  • Check your body (or whoever's body it was found on) for further presence of any additional ticks. Even after removing any clothing, check the clothing to be sure no more ticks are hiding and waiting for later feeding opportunities.

  • Check all hair very well, too. Ticks are notorious for hiding in people's hair (the same as with hiding in pets' fur) where they're well-concealed.

If you've been bitten by a tick:

  • Again, removal of the tick is the top priority. However, you'll need to do so very carefully to avoid having part of the tick's mouth left in your skin. Using tweezers, gently grab the tick by the head and steadily pull it off of your body.

  • Save or dispose of the tick in the same manner as listed above. When bitten, it's best to try to save the tick to be properly identified, but not all doctors are able to accurately tell which types of ticks are which. However, every bit of information you can offer when going to a doctor can be beneficial.

  • The same as with the other bites and stings, but especially for ticks, clean the bite wound well with soap and water.

  • Keep an eye on symptoms and consult your doctor if you see any redness, swelling, or other side effects. If you begin to experience fever or other indications of worsening, get medical assistance as soon as possible.

Ticks may occasionally cause severe reactions, but one of the worst risks with being fed on by a tick is the risk of tickborne illnesses, such as Lyme disease.

When to Consult a Doctor

Most instances have been covered above, but here are the main indicators to keep an eye out for after being bitten or stung that will let you know it's time to immediately seek out professional medical help:

  • Fever

  • Trouble breathing

  • Swollen lymph nodes

  • Spreading rash

  • Ongoing, severe pain

  • Flu-like symptoms

  • Feeling as if your throat is closing

  • Dizziness

  • Racing heart that won't slow down

  • Vomiting or abdominal pains

  • Swollen lips, face, or tongue

If you have a known insect venom allergy, always be sure to carry a rescue kit with you. If you've been tested and/or had the allergy confirmed by a doctor, you likely will already have an epinephrine auto-injector prescribed for emergency use. It's also recommended that you wear some type of medical identification, such as a medical emergency bracelet, to let paramedics or others know of your allergy in the event that something life-threatening occurs and you're unable to communicate.

For further tips on how to prevent insect bites and stings in general, check out our upcoming post on the Best Ways to Repel Bugs When Outdoors.

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