A number of insects, including bees, spiders, fleas, hornets, wasps, and mosquitoes can bite or sting. Some bites and stings cause itching; others cause pain. The itching and pain occur because the insect has injected venom or another irritating substance into your skin, which causes an allergic reaction. In most cases, this reaction is bothersome but not dangerous. However, a severe reaction can cause anaphylaxis, resulting in shortness of breath and tightening of your throat. Anaphylaxis can be fatal, even on the first reaction. Severe reactions can affect the whole body and may occur in minutes. This is a medical emergency and you should call 9-1-1. Another type of allergic reaction is called angioedema, which involves swelling throughout your body, especially the face, lips, and around the eyes. More people have allergic reactions to stinging insects than to biting insects.
Serious allergic reactions (called anaphylaxis):
Stinging insects include bumblebees, yellow jackets, hornets, wasps, and fire and harvester ants. Biting insects include conenose bugs, mosquitoes, horseflies, deerflies, spiders, ticks, bedbugs, and black flies.
If you know that you have a serious allergy to an insect, carry an emergency epinephrine kit, or Epi-pen. Your doctor can prescribe one. If you have had a reaction in the past, make sure that friends and family members know how to use an Epi-pen if you have had a reaction in the past. Wear a medical ID bracelet. For those with allergies, venom immunotherapy is up to 98% effective in preventing sting anaphylaxis.
If you are traveling to an area where malaria is common, ask your doctor about a malaria vaccine.
You can prevent insect bites and stings with proper clothing:
Applying insect repellent to your clothes instead of your skin can help prevent irritation. When in an area infested with mosquitoes, sand flies, or ticks, use a chemical insect repellent such as permethrin or DEET. DEET is the most effective and broadly used insect repellent. DO NOT apply insect repellent to sunburned skin. When applying both sunscreen and bug repellent, apply sunscreen first. Wait 30 minutes before applying bug repellent.
DO NOT use bug repellent on children's hands because they may rub their eyes, or put their hands in their mouths.
In most cases, bites and stings can be easily treated at home. However, do not try to treat a suspicious bite on your own. When in doubt, call your doctor. In the case of a severe allergic reaction, such as anaphylaxis, you must seek emergency medical help. DO NOT try to treat anaphylaxis with complementary therapies alone. If such an emergency occurs:
Redness, minor swelling, pain, or itching at the site of the bite generally go away within 3 to 7 days with no treatment, even if the affected area is large. To relieve your symptoms, follow these steps:
Including certain nutrients in your diet may help support your immune system and possibly reduce any inflammation or allergic reaction from an insect bite or sting. There is no scientific evidence that they will be effective, so talk to your doctor before taking a supplement to make sure that it is safe for you and will not interact with any medications that you regularly take. DO NOT treat serious reactions with nutrition and dietary supplements alone.
Few studies have examined the effectiveness of specific homeopathic remedies. A professional homeopath, however, may recommend one or more of the following treatments for insect bites and stings based on his or her knowledge and clinical experience. Before prescribing a remedy, homeopaths take into account a person's constitutional type, includes their physical, emotional, and intellectual makeup. An experienced homeopath assesses all of these factors when determining the most appropriate remedy for a particular individual. DO NOT treat serious reactions with homeopathy alone.
Some essential oils may help repel insects. Dilute the oil before applying it to your skin. Never apply pure essential oils directly. Avoid contact with your eyes. These oils include:
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Reviewed By: Steven D. Ehrlich, NMD, Solutions Acupuncture, a private practice specializing in complementary and alternative medicine, Phoenix, AZ. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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