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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. If you know you already have a tick allergy, do not remove the tick. Instead, seek medical attention. Removing the tick may cause it to inject more allergen-containing saliva.
After a bite or sting:
To help relieve itching use:
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:
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
Anaphylaxis. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at:http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T113858/Anaphylaxis. Updated August 22, 2017. Accessed December 7, 2017.
Bug bites and stings. Nemours Kid's Health website. Available at: http://kidshealth.org/en/teens/bug-bites.html. Updated February 2014. Accessed November 11, 2015.
Hymenoptera sting allergy. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at:http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T114226/Hymenoptera-sting-allergy. Updated April 6, 2017. Accessed December 7, 2017.
Insect bites and stings. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at:http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T181055/Insect-bites-and-stings. Updated April 6, 2017. Accessed December 7, 2017.
11/7/2016 EBSCO DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillancehttp://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T181055/Insect-bites-and-stings: Australian and New Zealand Committee on Resuscitation. ANZCOR Guideline 9.4.3—Envenomation from tick bites and bee, wasp, and ant stings. 2016 Jan. Available at: http://anzcor.org/assets/Guidelines/First-Aid/ANZCOR-Guideline-9-4-3-Ticks-Bites-Stings-Jan16.pdf.
Last reviewed November 2018 by EBSCO Medical Review Board David L. Horn, MD, FACP Last Updated: 11/11/2015