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Insect Bite or Sting


What do I need to know about an insect bite or sting? Most insect bites and stings are not dangerous and go away without treatment. Some people have a severe allergic reaction called anaphylaxis that needs immediate treatment. Common examples of insects that bite or sting are bees, ticks, mosquitoes, spiders, and ants. In some cases, insect bits can lead to diseases such as malaria, plaque, West Nile virus, Lyme disease, or Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever.

What are the signs and symptoms of an insect bite or sting? Mild symptoms:

  • A red bump

  • Pain

  • Swelling

  • Itching

Anaphylaxis symptoms:
  • Chest pain or tightness

  • Throat tightness or trouble breathing

  • Headache or dizziness

  • Nausea or vomiting

  • A rash that spreads

How is an insect bite or sting treated? The following can help reduce mild pain, swelling, and itching:

  • Elevate the affected area: Prop the wound above the level of your heart, if possible. Elevate the area for 10 to 20 minutes each hour or as directed by your caregiver.

  • Apply compresses: Soak a clean washcloth in cold water, wring it out, and put it on the bite or sting. Use the compress for 10 to 20 minutes each hour or as directed by your caregiver. After 24 to 48 hours, change to warm compresses.

  • Apply a paste: Add water to baking soda to make a thick paste. Put the paste on the area for 5 minutes. Rinse gently to remove the paste.

  • Medicines:

    • Antihistamines: Antihistamines reduce itching and swelling and can be bought without a doctor's order.

    • Epinephrine: Epinephrine is an emergency medicine used to stop anaphylaxis. Epinephrine comes as a shot that you will need to learn to use.

What should I do if an insect bites or stings me?

  • Remove the stinger: Take the stinger out by scraping it off with your fingernail, edge of a credit card, or a knife blade. Do not squeeze the wound. Gently wash the area where the stinger was with soap and water.

  • Remove the tick: Ticks must be removed as soon as possible so you do not get diseases passed through tick bites. Ask your caregiver for more information on tick bites and how to remove ticks.

How can I prevent an insect bite or sting?

  • Do not wear bright-colored or flower-print clothing when you plan to spend time outdoors. Do not use hair spray, perfumes, or aftershave.

  • Do not leave food out.

  • Empty any standing water and wash containers with soap and water every 2 days.

  • Put screens on all open windows and doors.

  • Put insect repellent on skin that is showing when you go outside. Put insect repellent at the top of your boots, bottom of pant legs, and sleeve cuffs. Wear long sleeves, pants, and shoes.

  • Use citronella candles outdoors to help keep mosquitoes away. Put a tick and flea collar on pets.

When should I contact my caregiver? Contact your caregiver if:

  • You have a fever.

  • The area becomes red, warm, tender, and swollen beyond the area of the bite or sting.

  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

When should I seek immediate help? Seek help immediately or call 911 if:

  • You have symptoms of anaphylaxis, such as wheezing, trouble breathing, or chest pain.

  • You have abdominal cramping, vomiting, or diarrhea.

  • You do not have your epinephrine.

  • You are stung on your tongue or in your throat.

  • A white area forms around the bite.

  • You are sweating badly or have terrible body pain.

  • You think you were bitten or stung by a poisonous insect.


You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

© 2014 Truven Health Analytics Inc. Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or Truven Health Analytics.

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