How to Best Prevent Bug Bites, and What to Do if Bitten

big mosquito bite and needs treatmentSummer is steadily approaching, and the warmer it gets, the more likely you are to head outdoors.  Unfortunately, with the great outdoors come insects, which often lead to bites. Although there are thousands of types of bugs, the most common insects you may encounter while outside include mosquitoes, ticks, fleas, and spiders. Bites may be minor, or they may lead to an allergic reaction or localized reaction if not treated appropriately.  

Keep in mind, insect bites are different from insect stings.  Stings can also cause allergic reactions or local irritations, but may be more serious, leading to life-threatening anaphylaxis.  When bitten by an insect, it uses its mouth, meaning the insect can transfer blood from other people or animals they previously bit. Gross, right? Mosquitoes are primary examples of insects that can transfer blood from person to person.  However, stinging insects use a special stinger that injects venom directly into the skin. Examples of stinging insects are bees and wasps.

Common Reactions to Bug Bites

As we mentioned earlier, bug bites may vary from causing a minor annoyance to a serious reaction.  Some of the most common reactions to bites include:

  • Localized Reactions – This is the most common reaction to an insect bite.  As a result of the bite, an individual may develop an inflammatory response at the puncture site that can appear within minutes of contact.  Redness, itching, or swelling may occur. If treated within a timely manner, these symptoms can resolve within hours.
  • Rashes – A rash, characterized by itchy, reddened areas on the skin, can lead to fluid-filled blisters.  Commonly seen in children between the ages of two to 10 years old, this condition (also known as insect bite-induced hypersensitivity) is caused by fleas, bed bugs, and mosquitoes.
  • Systemic Allergic Reactions – These types of reactions are more serious in nature, and most often result from bee stings.  Systemic reactions include generalized itching or swelling of the entire body, swelling of the tongue or throat, difficulty breathing or wheezing, and loss of consciousness.  

Tick Bites

Tick bites are most concerning due to the chance of disease transmission.  Ticks can transmit infections such as Lyme Disease, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Human Ehrlichiosis, Babesiosis, or Tularemia (depending on the region you live in the United States). Ticks are commonly found in grassy areas and shrubs, and attach easily to humans or pets.  If you discover a tick on your body, remove the tick from your skin using tweezers immediately. It’s essential you remove all parts of the tick from your skin, as infections occur after a tick has been attached to the skin for several hours. If you are unable to remove the tick on your own, you will need to seek medical attention for assistance.

Spider Bites

Most individuals think they have been bitten by a spider when they see a possible bug bite.  But, believe it or not, spider bites are not very common. However, if they do occur, you should take immediate action.  Common insect bites are often misdiagnosed as spider bites, because the symptoms of a spider bite are very similar to those of an insect bite.  Symptoms include redness, swelling, and in more serious cases, sweating, muscle pain, flu-like symptoms, and abdominal pain.

Necrosis can also occur, which happens when the center of the bite turns dark red, blue, or black, and dries out and develops into a “sore.”  Typically, this happens a few days after the bite. If you believe you’ve been bitten by a spider, it’s important to try and figure out the type of spider that you might have come in contact with.  

Ways to Prevent Bug Bites

Avoiding bug bites and bee stings doesn’t have to be difficult! In fact, there are several things you can do to help your outdoor adventures be as bug-free as possible.

You can:

  • Wear shoes, long-sleeved shirts, and long pants outside.
  • Use bug spray or insect repellant.
  • Stay inside at dawn and dusk, when insects are more active.
  • Drain areas of standing water around your home.
  • Keep food and drinks covered while outside.
  • Stay calm if you see a bee, instead of running.
  • Avoid standing on or near ant mounds.
  • Contact your local pest control service to get rid of any insect nests in or near your home.

For individuals that are highly sensitive to insect bites or stings, using an Epi-pen is essential to prevent anaphylaxis.  Anaphylaxis can occur within seconds to minutes of exposure. Common symptoms include constriction of the airway, swollen tongue or throat, and weak or rapid pulse. These symptoms require immediate medical treatment.

Treatment for Bug Bites

What should you do if you or your child get bitten?  There are many things that can be done prior to seeking medical treatment.  If you or your child are bitten or stung, here are a few first-line treatments that can be done:

  • Wash the area using cool water.
  • Keep the area clean and dry.
  • Don’t scratch the affected area, even if it itches.
  • Apply a cold, damp cloth for soothing relief.
  • Apply topical antihistamines (Benadryl or Caladryl) to help with itching.
  • Take oral antihistamines ( Benadryl or Chlor-Trimeton) for generalized itching.
  • Use Ibuprofen or Tylenol for general discomfort.

Seek medical care immediately if you develop the following symptoms:

  • Hives
  • Swelling in the face, tongue, or neck
  • Dizziness or fainting

You should also seek further treatment if you develop any of the following symptoms of infection:

  • Fever
  • Increasing redness of the affected area
  • Drainage from the affected area
  • Warmth from the infected area
  • Increased  pain and swelling  

We’re Here to Help

If you find yourself in need of medical care due to bug bites or bee stings this summer, our competent and caring team of medical providers at InstaCare are waiting to help you. Reserve your spot now for a same-day or next-day visit at

Christie Leath, NP

Post Author:

Christie Leath, FNP-C at InstaCare.