A Guide to Common Bug Bites (and What to Do If You've Been Bitten!)
Updated: Jul 7, 2022
To Benjamin Franklin’s two certainties of life ̶ death and taxes ̶ we should add a third: Bugs always arrive with the good weather.
For the record, I think insects are truly remarkable creatures. Not only are they an important source of food for some populations, but they also pollinate crops and wildflowers, and are recyclers and decomposers. They consume dead trees, animals and other waste that would accumulate endlessly without their help. Plus, they also produce silk, beeswax, and dyes.
Astonishing, if you think about it.
However, for all their beauty and usefulness, bugs and insects can also be the collective bane of our life, biting and stinging their way through the spring and summer.
With that I mind, what follows is a short primer on what the stings and bites of the most common bugs look like, and how to treat them.
Mosquito bites produce small, round, puffy bumps that eventually become red, hard, swollen, and itchy. And chances are good that you’ll have more than one! Mosquito bites may swell due to toxins or allergic substances carried in the mosquito’s saliva. However, scratching the bites can cause them to rupture, which can result in infection (although this is actually rare).
You can take care of mosquito bites by washing them with soap and warm water. If you can, apply an ice pack to the bite site. You might also turn to over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers, antihistamines, or topical anti-itch medications to keep the itching under control. If you happen to develop body aches, headaches, or a fever you should contact your doctor immediately.
If you’re bitten, bed bug bites will probably appear in lines or groups, usually on the hands, neck, or feet, and are red and swollen with dark-red centers. Like mosquitos, the itchiness is caused by an allergic reaction to the bite. Unfortunately, if you’re bitten you may develop very itchy blisters or hives at the bite site.
Generally speaking, bed bug bites get better on their own within one to two weeks. However, they will itch, in which case you can apply anti-itch cream or calamine lotion. Oral antihistamines can also help to reduce the itching and burning. Be sure to use a reliable bed bug spray to get rid of those nasty pests and, if needed, hire a pest control professional.
In rare cases, bed bug bites can trigger allergic reactions. Call your doctor right away if this happens. Finally, you can lessen the risk of infection by washing the bites with soap and water.
If there’s one thing we know well, it’s bed bugs.
Read out detailed guide on about how to get rid of bed bugs.
Because of their small size, chiggers are usually hard to see, but their bites are far from insignificant. They often materialize as welts, blisters, pimples, or hives, and generally appear in groups. They can be extremely itchy. Painful rashes can also result from these bites, usually as an immune response to the bites of tiny mite larva. You should also be aware that chigger bites may be found in skin folds, or near areas where clothing fits tightly.
Treating Cheater Bites
Unfortunately, chigger bites can take anywhere from one to three weeks to heal properly. However, if you think you’ve been a recipient of a chigger bite, you should wash the area with soap and water as soon as you can. If you have any antiseptic handy, apply it to the welts that will invariably appear. As with most insect bites avoid scratching, since this can cause infections. OTC anti-itch medications like hydrocortisone cream or calamine lotion can also help; and applying ice to the bites will relieve the itchiness.
Hands down, fire ants (which can be either red or black) are among the most aggressive denizens of the insect world, and can inflict a painful, stinging bite. These appear a swollen red spot that often develop a blister on top, and they can burn and itch for up to a week. Unfortunately, their bites can produce dangerous allergic reactions in some people, which can result in swelling, itching, and difficulty in breathing. If this occurs the bite victim should seek immediate medical assistance ̶ ideally in a hospital ER.
If you suffer from mild sting reactions, you can lessen the effects by washing the affected area(s) with soap and water and covering it with a bandage. Applying ice, of course, always reduces the pain. Plus, OTC topical treatments, such as steroid creams and antihistamines, can also help to reduce the pain and itchiness. The effects of these fire ant stings usually vanish in about a week, although they can last longer if scratching causes infections.
Ticks are often regarded (along with bees and mosquitoes) as a sure sign that the warm weather is here to stay. Alas, their bites can cause pain or swelling, and can also lead to rashes, blisters, even difficulty breathing. The latter symptom, by the way, requires immediate medical attention. Keep in mind, too, that removing a tick can be quite difficult, so if you have any doubts about your surgical skills, best leave it to a trained medical professional.
Treatment-wise, there is no one, sure approach that can help, especially the treatment required is based on the type of tick that bit you. It is vitally important that you see a doctor as soon as you’ve been bitten.
If you (or your pet) has ticks, check out these tips on how to get rid of ticks!
Let’s face it, we all hate fleas ̶ and with good reason! Not only can flea bites cause the kind of itching and scratching, it can lead to infection, but are also linked with other dangers. In fact, there are a number of flea diseases that can be transmitted from fleas, so beware. Flea bites are usually found in groups on the lower legs and feet, and appear as red bumps surrounded by a red halo. Oh yes, and they’re very itchy.
How to Treat Flea Bites
To treat fleabites, OTC anti-itch creams and antihistamine medications are very effective. Of course, there are also those old, DIY home treatments for fleas, but they can be unpredictable. They may work, they may not. So best to go with more conventional, medically-proven products. Generally speaking, flea bites will vanish without any treatment, but you should try not to scratch the bitten area(s). If you see white pockets or a rash on the bites, chances are you’ve developed an infection, and that does require the attention of a doctor.
And of course, to avoid another encounter, you’re going to want to learn how to get rid of those fleas!
To the untrained eye, scabies can look a lot like bed bug bites, especially since it may take four to six weeks for the symptoms to materialize. However, scabies is caused by small mites, whereas bed bugs are, in fact, insects. It creates an extremely itchy rash, which might look pimply, made up as it is of tiny blisters, or scales. Likely as not the rash will produce raised white, or tan colored lines, especially on the wrist, between the fingers, on the stomach and the elbows, and between the toes. If untreated, these unsightly lines will turn into red, inflamed bumps (called papules) and can quickly fester.
Getting rid of a scabies infestation usually requires prescription ointments, creams, and lotions that can be applied directly to the skin. You should apply the medicine at night when the mites are most active, covering all your skin from the neck down. Your doctor may also prescribe additional medications to help relieve some of the more annoying symptoms of scabies. These might include antihistamines, or pramoxine lotion to help control the itching. Unfortunately, scabies can be hard to get rid of, so if you are still having symptoms after four weeks of treatment you should consult your doctor again, as soon as possible!
Did You Know?
Scabies and Bed Bugs can easily be confused. Learn how to tell the difference between bed bugs and scabies.
Want to learn more about mites?
Fortunately for us, most spiders are harmless and their bites are mildly irritating, at best, much like a bee sting. However, there are some very dangerous spiders out there, including the brown recluse, the black widow, the hobo spider, the tarantula, and the wolf spider. If you think you’ve been bitten by any of these spiders you need to get yourself to an emergency immediately. Most bites become visible as two small puncture marks. Depending on the spider that bites you, may develop a single raised papule, pustule, or wheal at the site of the bite, followed by redness and tenderness.
What to Do If You've Been Bitten by a Spider
Once again, seek immediate medical attention if you think you’ve been bitten by one of the dangerous spiders listed above. If the bite has been ‘administered’ by one of the benign spiders in the world, you can probably treat it at home. First, clean the bite with soap and water (to prevent infection), then apply an ice pack, which you should place on the bite for 10 minutes, two minutes off, then 10 minutes again. If you’ve been bitten on the foot or leg, best to elevate it to reduce the swelling. Antihistamines ̶ such as diphenhydramine (Benadryl) ̶ can help with itching, although you may have to apply an antibiotic ointment to the bite if blisters develop.
I confess that bees are my favorite insect, bar none. And, apart from Africanized honey bees, are neither hostile nor aggressive. Still, we sometimes get on their wrong side and are stung for our intrusions. A bee sting is always painful and redness, swelling, or itching follows at the sting site. You may even see a small, white spot where the stinger penetrated the skin. Of course, it hurts you, but spare a thought for the bee: when it stings you, it rips the sting from its body and dies.
Treating Bee Stings
You can treat bee stings with ice or cold compresses (this will help reduce the pain and swelling), but anti-inflammatories such as Motrin or Advil can also help. Alternatively, you can treat the itching and redness with hydrocortisone cream or calamine lotion. If the itching and swelling are acute, taking oral antihistamines (Benadryl, again) can bring relief. Most important: don’t scratch the sting site. That can increase the itching, swelling, and redness.
When we use the term ‘wasp’, most of us mean German Wasps, although common usage tends to clump hornets and wasps together indiscriminately. A sharp pain (on the arm, leg, neck, ankle, it really doesn’t matter where) is usually the first sign that you’ve been stung by a wasp. Redness, swelling, and itching or burning invariably occurs at the sting site, which is invariably followed by a raised welt around the sting site. Unlike bees, wasps are capable of stinging many times. They don’t die after their attack(s).
Taking Care of Your Wasp Sting
Most wasp stings don’t require a visit to the ER, so you can safely treat them at home. First, wash the sting area with soap and water (which removes a good deal of the venom); then, second, apply an ice pack to the wound site (to reduce swelling and pain), then dry it, to prevent infection. You might also consider using hydrocortisone cream or calamine lotion, if itching or skin irritation becomes really annoying. Baking soda and colloidal oatmeal are also soothing to the skin and can be used during a bath, or through medicated skin creams.
Spring Is Here: Mount Your Defense
Much as I love bees, the rest of the aforementioned pests are, well, pests! And you need more than flyswatter to fight them off. (Note: does anyone really use fly swatters any more)
Anyway, you should think seriously about adding Sterifab to your arsenal of anti-bug weapons.
Sterifab is a remarkably effective way of eradicating virtually any insect, including the ones we’ve discussed above. Plus, it leaves no residue and is EPA-approved.