How to Treat Insect Bites and Stings
Even when you’ve done your best… wearing long sleeves, rugged pants, a hat, light clothing, or even put on repellent, it never fails that when the warm weather hits we’re going to get bitten by bugs.
PLEASE READ: Bites and stings can be deadly. If you’re reading this because your child has been bitten or stung, please get them immediate care at the local emergency room. Children are much more susceptible to allergic reactions. Adults are also susceptible, so it’s always recommended to seek assistance from a medical professional immediately if you have fever, chills, nausea, vomiting, chest pain, severe sweating, slurred speech, trouble breathing, swelling, or other symptoms.
Venomous insects lead the list of deaths in the United States, with 90 to 100 people dying each year from the bee sting complications – typically allergic reactions leading to anaphylactic shock and death from complications. Additionally, wasps, hornets, fire ants, scorpions, and spiders can also inject venom.
Non-venomous insects like mosquitos and ticks can spread disease and also cause allergic reactions. Recently, a young girl at Riley Hospital for Children at IU Health tested positive for Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever from a tick bite and died a few days later.
Leave, Remove, Clean, and Treat
Before you decide to treat your insect bite or sting yourself, you’ll want to take some steps first:
- Move away from the area you were bitten or stung. You don’t want to attract more bees or insects and wind up with more bites or stings.
- Remove any bug, stinger or the jaws of the insect that may be left. Do this carefully to ensure you don’t leave anything in the wound.
- Clean the area with mild soap, rinse, and dry off.
- Treat the symptoms by applying oils, ointment, or taking medication.
Do topical treatments actually work?
You may be surprised to find there’s a lack of evidence that oils and ointments actually work. A study in the UK (which excluded ticks, mites, and lice) found that with or without topical treatments, bug bites and stings generally took the same time before discomfort disappeared or swelling dissipated. Personally, I still think a cold compress and some aloe felt better… I don’t care if it was all in my head!
Symptoms of Insect Bites and Stings
The human body is quite amazing and our ability to fend off complications with bug bites is incredible… but bites can lead to many problems, including:
- Itching – when insects bite, their saliva or venom also injects histamine. Histamine causes our muscles to contract and our blood capillaries to dilate. This is why treatment of bites often includes the use of an antihistamine.
- Hives – some people experience hives and swelling over their entire body from the allergic reaction to a bug bite.
- Rashes – while most insect bites are identified with local swelling, the histamine can also produce a widespread allergic rash beyond your bite area.
- Swelling – along with rashes, your body may have a mild or severe allergic reaction that intensely swells the area. For immediate relief, you can apply ice packs to reduce swelling.
- Blisters – the reactions of bug bites often cause fluid-filled areas called bullae or circular areas called weals. Blisters may be a sign of a more serious reaction and may not appear immediately.
- Ulcer – a dark region called an eschar may appear from a venomous bite after a blister. Get medical assistance immediately for assistance.
Outside of allergic complications, the worst thing you can do with a bite is to scratch it. Scratching can create an open wound that’s highly susceptible to infection and infection can lead to many more complications, including scarring. Try to immediately the relieve the itching so that you’re not tempted to scratch the area.
Natural Antihistamines for Insect Bite and Sting Treatment
In mild cases, you may be able to ingest a natural antihistamine to help fight the histamine release of insects. Healthline lists these 4 best natural antihistamines.
- Stinging Nettle – Freeze-dried nettles can be found online and at health food stores and has been found to relieve the symptoms associated with histamines.
- Quercetin – found in grapefruit, apples, okra, and red wine, or as a supplement, Quercetin helps relieve the side effects of allergies.
- Bromelain – found in pineapples and supplements, it’s also been found to alleviate breathing and inflammation complications associated with allergies.
- Vitamin C – good old Vitamin C has been found to be a great natural antihistamine and it’s found in many fruits and vegetables as well as in supplements. It’s also non-toxic and free of side effects!
Natural Topical Remedies for Insect Bite and Sting Treatment
There are natural remedies that can be applied to your bug bite to help alleviate itching and swelling. This article from Optiderma points to 6 natural remedies:
- Emu Oil – Emu oil is extracted from the fat of the emu bird, can relieve the itching and swelling and can help your bit heal faster without scarring.
- Calendula Cream – relieves irritation and itching and provides antiseptic benefits. A blister can be also be treated by applying calendula ointment on it.
- Apple Cider Vinegar – unpasteurized and organic apple cider vinegar with sediment applied to bug bites can relieve itching and burning. Dilute it if your skin is sensitive and dab it on the wound with a cotton ball or swab.
- Witch Hazel – helps calm itching caused by bug bites. It contains tannins that have a mild anesthetic effect. Apply it on the bite for 10 minutes using a cotton ball.
- Aloe Vera – fresh aloe vera applied a few times a day will relieve your itching with its natural compounds and amino acids. It’s also a soothing gel that will assist in healing.
- Plantain – Native Americans chewed plantain leaves and applied them to insect bites and bee stings. You can shred the leaves and apply it directly to the area to stop the itching of allergic rashes and promote healing.
Over the Counter Insect Bite and Sting Treatment
There are some outstanding oils and ointments that provide incredible relief from the itching and swelling of insect bites and stings that you can find at your local pharmacy or store.
- Hydrocortisone Creams – Hydrocortisone is a corticosteroid and works by activating natural substances in the skin to reduce swelling, redness, and itching.
- Oral Antihistamines – diphenhydramine (Benadryl Allergy and generic) can help ease burning or itching. These can cause drowsiness, so use with caution.
- Pain relievers – as acetaminophen (Tylenol and generic), ibuprofen (Advil and generic), or naproxen (Aleve and generic) can help alleviate the pain associated with the bite or sting.