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Be prepared for summer’s bug bites Be prepared for summer’s bug bites
Some insect bites or stings, like those from bee's and wasps or fire ants, are more painful than others, like those from mosquitoes or... Be prepared for summer’s bug bites

by Kimberly Allen R.N.

As summer approaches so do the seasonal insects like mosquitoes, gnat’s and fire ant’s as well as the bee’s and wasps that come with it.  Bites and stings happen when the insects become excited and agitated or if they are looking to feed.  Most insects inject a mild venom that causes an immediate local reaction.  Some insect bites or stings, like those from bee’s and wasps or fire ants, are more painful than others, like those from mosquitoes or fleas which primarily cause itching.  Localized skin reaction usually lasts for a few days.

Bee stings can be painful and irritate the skin, but unless you have an allergy, are rarely serious.

Insect bites can also cause much more severe reactions ranging from stronger localized allergic reactions to anaphylaxis.  Anaphylaxis is a life threatening allergic reaction requiring immediate medical attention. Other reactions that require medical attention include:

1.Toxic reaction to a single sting or bite.  This reaction is usually caused by spiders like the black widow and the brown recluse spider.  The scorpion and puss catapillar are also know to cause toxic reactions.

2. Toxic reaction to multiple stings or bites.  This is usually caused by wasp’s, hornets or fire ants.  Because the bee leaves the stinger behind and then dies there’s no multiple bites, however, the africanized honey bees, otherwise known as the killer bees, are much more aggressive and attack in huge swarms producing multiple single bites that then lead to this type of toxicity.

3. Large skin reactions.  These would be locallized red raised areas that are greater than 5mm in diameter.

4. Skin infections.  These are usually found at the site of the bite and usually result from scratching the are breaking the skin which allows bacteria in, however, there are certain types of sand flies that can cause infections and ulcerations of the skin.

5. Viral infections.  Mosquitoes that are infected can spread infections such as the West Nile virus.

6. Parasite Infections. The infected mosquito spread infections like malaria and lieshmaniasis.

Anaphylaxis is usually immediate resulting from a single bite though it can occur from toxicity to multiple bites.  The faster the allergic response to the bite the more severe the anaphylacitic reaction will usually be.  Anaphylaxis can develop after the first bite, with each bite or after having experienced several bites.  Symptoms of anaphylaxis include coughing and wheezing with difficulty breathing, swelling of the tongue, lips and mucous membranes accompanied by light headedness and confusion.  There may be hives and swelling all over or locally around the bite area.

Toxic reactions can vary depending on the type of insect or spider causing the bite and it’s toxicity.  The symptoms of toxicity include nausea, which can be accompanied by vomiting, diarrhea, fever, feeling weak and lightheaded.  The area around the bite will swell rapidly.  There may also be muscle spasms and/or seizures.  Unlike in anaphylaxis there aren’t any hives or difficulty breathing in a toxic reaction, however, it is possible to have both a toxic and an allergic reaction at the same time.  A toxic reaction can develop into heart rhythm irregularities, shock, and death.  Medical treatment should be sought immediately if toxicity is suspected.

Home treatments are usually sufficient for common biting and stinging insects.  These would include removal of the stinger as quickly as possible, apply an ice pack to the bite area for 15-20 min every hour for the first 6hrs, after 6hrs apply warm compresses for comfort.  OTC medications such as benadryl and hydrocortisone cream can be used to help with the itching.
The treatment for anaphylaxis is epinephrine.  If you are known to have a severe allergy to bites or stings always carry an epi-pen with you. If you don’t know if you are allergic it’s always  a good idea to have a first aid kit that contains an epi pen  when you are going to be outside in an area that would make immediate medical care difficult such as camping or hiking if possible.

Medical treatment for toxicity can range from home remedies to the need for immediate medical attention, depending on the severity of the toxic reation and if it occurs alone or with anaphylaxis.

Kimberly Allen is a registered nurse with an AND in nursing. She has worked in ACF, LCF and psychiatric facilities, although she spent most of her career as a home health expert. She is now a regular contributor to, dispensing advice and knowledge about medical issues and questions. You can reach her with any comments or questions at