Insect bites or stings can be from a number of insects, including bees, spiders, fleas, hornets, wasps, and mosquitoes. 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 911. 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.
Signs and Symptoms
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. Your doctor can prescribe one. 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 any skin irritation. When in an area infested with mosquitoes, sand flies, or ticks, use a chemical insect repellent such as DEET. DEET has been the most effective and broadly used insect repellent for the past 6 decades. Don't apply insect repellent to sunburned skin. When applying both sunscreen and bug repellent, apply the sunscreen first. Wait 30 minutes before applying the bug repellent.
Don't 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, don't 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 in 3 - 7 days with no treatment, even if the affected area is large. To relieve your symptoms, follow these steps:
Nutrition and Dietary Supplements
Including some nutrients in your diet may help support your immune system and possibly reduce any inflammation or allergic reaction you may have from an insect bite or sting, although there is no scientific evidence that they will be effective. 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.
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. In homeopathic terms, a person's constitution is his or her physical, emotional, and intellectual makeup. An experienced homeopath assesses all of these factors when determining the most appropriate remedy for a particular individual.
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:
Auerbach: Wilderness Medicine, 5th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Mosby Elsevier Inc. 2007.
Aberer E. What should one do in case of a tick bite? Curr Probl Dermatol. 2009;37:155-66.
Blumenthal M, Goldberg A, Brinckmann J, eds. Herbal Medicine: Expanded Commission E Monographs. Newton, Mass: Integrative Medicine Communications; 2000; 230-232, 379-384.
Cavanagh HM, Wilkinson JM. Biological activities of lavender essential oil. Phytother Res. 2002;16(4):301-308.
Fallatah SA, Khater EI. Potential of medicinal plants in mosquito control. [Review]. J Egypt Soc Parasitol. 2010;40(1):1-26. Review.
Golden D. Insect Sting Anaphylaxis. Immunology and Allergy Clinics of North America. 2007;27(2).
Govindarajan M. Ovicidal and repellent properties of Coccinia indica Wight and Arn. (Family:Cucurbitaceae) against three important vector mosquitoes. Eur Rev Med Pharmacol Sci. 2011;15(9):1010-9.
Katz TM, Miller JH, Herbert AA. Insect repellents: historical perspectives and new developments. J Am Acad Dermatol. 2008;58(5):865-71.
Lukwa N, Molgaard P, Mutambu SL, Musana BJ. Seven essential oils inhibit Anopheles arabiensis mosquito biting. Cent Afr J Med. 2002;48(11-12):141-143.
Mueller GC, et al. Ability of essential oil candles to repel biting insects in high and low biting pressure environments. J Am Mosq Control Assoc. 2008;24(1):154-60.
Nerio LS, Olivero-Verbel J, Stashenko E. Repellent activity of essential oils: a review. Bioresour Technol. 2010;101(1):372-8.
Oyedele AO, Gbolade AA, Sosan MB, Adewoyin FB, Soyelu OL, Orafidiya OO. Formulation of an effective mosquito-repellent topical product from lemongrass oil. Phytomedicine. 2002;9(3):259-262.
Pitasawat B, Choochote W, Tuetun B, et al. Repellency of aromatic turmeric Curcuma aromatica under laboratory and field conditions. J Vector Ecol. 2003;28(2):234-240.
PPAV Working Groups. Personal protection against biting insects and ticks. Parasite. 2011;18(1):93-11.
Tawatsin A, Wratten SD, Scott RR, Thavara U, Techadamrongsin Y. Repellency of volatile oils from plants against three mosquito vectors. J Vector Ecol. 2001;26(1):76-82.
Trongtokit Y, Rongsriyam Y, Komalamisra N, Apiwathnasorn C. Comparative repellency of 38 essential oils against mosquito bites. Phytother Res. 2005;19(4):303-9.
Review Date: 1/20/2012
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.
The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.