Insect bites and stings may be caused by a variety of bugs. You may or may not know what bit you. A bite or sting may go unnoticed or can cause irritating skin reactions. Most bites and stings can be safely treated at home.
For some people, insect bites or stings can cause severe allergic reactions. These reactions will require prompt medical attention. If you think that you are having a severe allergic reaction, call for emergency medical services right away.
Insect bites and stings are caused by:
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Your chance of being bitten or stung by an insect is increased if you:
Most insect bites and stings will cause a reaction in the skin around the bite. The most common symptoms include:
Symptoms of a severe allergic reaction include:
If you have or suspect a severe allergic reaction, call for emergency medical services right away.
Not all insect bites or stings require medical attention.
If you have had a severe reaction, your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. You will be asked about the type of insect that bit or stung you. If possible, try to obtain a sample of the insect.
Your doctor will use this information to understand what is causing your symptoms and how to treat them.
Most insect bites and stings can be safely treated at home. After a bite or sting, consider the following steps:
Sometimes the insect or part of the insect may be left behind in the skin. Removing them will help the area heal and avoid further irritation or infection.
Medical help is needed for severe allergic reactions. Once you arrive at the hospital, treatment may include:
To help reduce your chances of insect bites and stings:
While outdoors, in areas with insects:
Avoid areas or times when insects are most active:
Control pests around your home:
American College of Allergy, Asthma, & Immunology
National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases
Allergy Asthma Information Association
Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety
Bites and stings. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T181055/Bites-and-stings. Updated August 16, 2014. Accessed September 27, 2016.
Bug bites and stings. Nemours Kid's Health website. Available at: http://www.kidshealth.org/teen/safety/first_aid/bug_bites.html. Updated February 2014. Accessed November 11, 2015.
Clark S, Camargo CA Jr. Emergency treatment and prevention of insect-sting anaphylaxis. Curr Opin Allergy Clin Immunol. 2006;6(4):279-283.
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Last reviewed November 2015 by David L. Horn, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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