Bzz, bzz. Swat! Often, it seems that dealing with insects is just as much a part of summer as barbecues and going to the beach. Unfortunately, if you spend a lot of time outdoors, chances are you’ll get bit or stung at some point during the season. That’s why it’s important to know how to properly deal with the different stings and bites of summer:
Bee, wasp and similar stings
Being stung by a wasp, yellow jacket, hornet or honey bee can be a painful experience. The stinger injects venom, which causes immediate pain and often swelling. Sometimes the reaction to the venom can persist for days. Most local allergic reactions can be treated at home with ice, an antihistamine, and a topical steroid. However, if you develop a secondary skin infection, swelling or a fever, you should seek medical treatment as these reactions are more serious and can take over a week to go away. A small percentage of people will have a severe allergic reaction which can be life-threatening.
Caution: If any sting or bite causes symptoms such as hives, difficulty breathing, a fast heartbeat or pulse, tightness in throat or chest, severe swelling, vomiting or feelings of faintness or dizziness, call 911 immediately as this can be a potentially life-threatening allergic reaction known as anaphylaxis which requires emergency treatment. If you do develop such a severe reaction, you should ask your primary care provider about a prescription for an “epipen” and discuss when and how it should be used.
When insects such as mosquitos, gnats or deer flies bite, they release saliva into the wound which can cause itching and inflammation. Sometimes this is just a small, itchy bump, but some people have a more severe reaction. In most cases, you can treat an insect bite at home (see treatment tips below). If redness, irritation and other symptoms of an insect bite persist for more than a few days, you should consult with a medical provider.
All spiders can cause bites, but in our part of the world the black widow and brown recluse spider are truly dangerous. At first, their bite may only cause a pinprick sensation or mild stinging, but if you experience intense pain, chills, nausea or elevated body temperature after any spider bite, always seek medical attention immediately.
How to handle being stung or bitten:
Remove the stinger. If a stinger is present, you should remove it with a scraping motion using your fingernail, credit card, or tweezers. Be careful not to squeeze or pinch the stinger as that can inject more venom into your body (this is why a scraping motion works best).
Control the swelling. Icing the area around the bite will bring down the swelling and may reduce pain. If the sting is on your arm or leg, elevating it can also reduce the swelling.
Treat the pain. If discomfort persists after the sting, an over-the-counter pain medication such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen can help. For itchiness, try applying an antihistamine or corticosteroid cream (do not apply if the skin is broken). Calamine lotion or a mixture of baking soda and water can also help, as can applying a cold compress.
Remember that allergic reactions to insect bites and stings aren’t always predictable. Your sensitivity can change over time. So always be aware of the warning signs of a serious reaction and seek medical attention if you need it.