How To Best Treat Your Insect Bites And Stings

Insect stings and bites are very common especially during the summer when most people are out and about taking advantage of the beautiful weather.

Since it’s still summer in Queensland, the Gold Coast, and the rest of Australia, it pays not only to be cautious but also knowledgeable on how to best treat insect bites and stings.

Common symptoms of insect bites

How your skin reacts to a bite or sting usually depends on the type of insect that bit you. Insect bites are often exhibited by a puncture wound in the skin and would manifest the following symptoms:

  • Skin irritation
  • Inflammation or swelling
  • Bumps or blisters form around the bitten area.

Most insect bites may not require treatment and will clear up in a day or two.

Common symptoms of insect stings

Oftentimes, insects would leave their “sting” behind. When you get stung, the insect will puncture your skin and leave behind its feces, saliva, and venom which can cause a painful stinging sensation and redden in the affected area.

If the sting is not serious, it usually clears up within 48 hours.

Here are common symptoms of an insect sting:

  • Reddening of the area around the sting site.
  • Pain that gradually fades in a few hours.
  • Swelling around the sting area.
  • An intense burning feeling on the skin.
  • Allergic reactions.
  • Anaphylaxis and allergic reactions

Most of the time, bites and stings from insects (such as bees, wasps, and hornets) will only cause pain and swelling. But allergic reactions are known to arise in certain individuals.

There are cases when insect bites and stings can cause anaphylaxis – a severe and potentially life-threatening allergic reaction that may occur within minutes or even seconds after a bite or sting.

Treatment for localized allergic reactions

Most allergies are localized and not severe, exhibited only by a slight swelling on the sting site which would enlarge as the hours go by. The swelling will go away on its own after a few days and is usually not dangerous.

If you notice a localized allergic reaction after a bite, here’s what you can do:

1. Take an antihistamine tablet to inhibit the histamine produced by the body and thus help them alleviate allergy symptoms.

2. Use a cold compress to reduce the swelling and provide relief from the pain.

3. Take painkillers like ibuprofen or paracetamol.

4. If the swelling persists, visit your doctor right away.

Treatment for more severe allergic reactions

While severe allergic reactions are more uncommon, they’re no doubt dangerous and even life-threatening when ignored. You will know there is a severe allergic reaction when a person exhibits the following symptoms:

1. Swelling on the face can extend down to the lips, tongue, throat, and also affect the airways.

2. Redness of the skin, low blood pressure, and even a fast heart rate could manifest through the dilation of the blood vessels.

3. Abdominal cramps.

4. Itching on many parts of the body.

5. The appearance of a blotchy rash anywhere on the body.

6. Breathing difficulties.

These reactions often develop within 10 minutes and could be dangerous. When symptoms like these appear, you must call an ambulance immediately and use an adrenaline pen if available. You may be given oxygen and injections of adrenaline (epinephrine), steroids, and antihistamines in the hospital to counter the allergic reaction.

Treating bee stings, wasp stings, and ant stings

The most common causes of allergic reactions, especially anaphylaxis, are bee, wasp, and ant stings. Wasps are more likely to attack you due to their aggressive nature and their penchant for food and sugary substances but they don’t usually leave their stingers behind.

If you’ve been stung, remember the following:

  • Don’t use tweezers to remove the sting. Bees leave behind a sac of venom with their sting and using tweezers will only cause more venom to be squeezed out.
  • Gently remove the stinger by scraping it from the side using the edge of a firm object.
  • Lastly, wash the affected area with soap and water.

Treating caterpillar stings

The most common reactions you may get from caterpillar stings are itching, burning, swelling, and blistering sensation. It is recommended to avoid caterpillars since it is hard to distinguish the harmless kind from the stinging ones.

If you’ve been stung by a caterpillar, make sure to:

1. Use tweezers to remove the visible caterpillar hairs.

2. For the finer caterpillar hairs that are too small to remove by tweezers, simply use adhesive tape around the affected area.

3. Scratching or rubbing the affected area may cause the hairs to go deeper into the skin so it would be best to avoid doing that.

Treating tick bites

Most tick bites are generally painless and cause only minor reactions. But some ticks can

transmit microorganisms such as bacteria that may cause several illnesses of which the most common is Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever. When bitten by a tick, here’s what you should do:

  • Remove the tick immediately and carefully using fine-tipped forceps. Gently pull out the tick and avoid twisting or squeezing the tick.
  • Never use your bare hands when handling the tick.
  • Do not use petroleum jelly, fingernail polish, or a hot match to remove a tick.
  • Place the tick in a sealed container and put the container in a freezer as your doctor may want to see the tick in case there is a new development with your symptoms.
  • Wash and disinfect the bite site using warm water and soap or rubbing alcohol.

Treating spider bites

First of all, spiders aren’t insects. But since most people think they are, it would be best to know how to treat them in case they attack you. Most spiders aren’t dangerous. While they may bite you, their fangs are usually too small or weak to puncture the skin. If you’ve been bitten by a non-venomous spider, here’s what you should do:

1. You can apply an ice pack to the bite. Doing this for 10 minutes at a time will alleviate the pain and the itch you might feel.

2. You can help reduce swelling by elevating the affected area.

3. If you start to itch, take an antihistamine.

4. Cleaning the affected area with soap and water will help prevent infection.

5. When blisters start to appear, you can apply antibiotic ointment to the affected.

If you are bitten by a venomous spider, you must seek medical help as soon as possible.

Dealing with the itch

Itching happens when an area of the skin gets irritated and the person develops a desire to scratch the affected area especially during allergic reactions. Spots and rashes may develop around the affected area and oftentimes are the cause of the itchiness. If you want to relieve the itching, here’s what you can do:

  • Do not scratch the affected area.
  • Taking a cool bath or shower can help alleviate and soothe the itching.
  • Do not use perfumed skincare products.
  • Wear comfortable clothing, specifically loose clothing, to not irritate the skin.
  • You can use an ice pack to soothe the itch but do not directly apply it to the skin.

If itching persists, seek professional advice.

When to see a pharmacist or doctor

Whichever insect bit or stung you, see a pharmacist or doctor if any of these happens: 

– When the skin around the bite becomes red and swollen or when the skin reaction starts to spread.

– When there is an open wound.

– When the bite or sting appears to be infected accompanied by symptoms such as pain, blistering, pus, and/or crusting.

– When the affected person is pregnant or breastfeeding, a young child, has other medical conditions like asthma, is taking other medication, or is known to have allergies to some medicines.

Urgently seek medical advice when you exhibit the following symptoms:

– When you start feeling unwell or vomiting or become dizzy.

– When there is significant swelling.

– When you develop a fever, a tight chest, or when breathing or swallowing becomes difficult.

– When you’ve had severe reactions in the past.

Medicines to Treat Insect Bites and Stings

Insect bites and stings can be commonly treated with medicines to alleviate their symptoms such as:

1. Antihistamines such as diphenhydramine (Benadryl), cetirizine, desloratadine, fexofenadine, loratadine, and promethazine to block the action of histamine and alleviate the itching.

2. Anti-itch and soothing medication such as Bepanthen creams, Eurax, Pinetarsol, Savlon,  

3. SoloSite Gel, Stingose range, Stop Itch Plus, and Ungvita.

4. Topical steroids to relieve itching (ask your pharmacist).

5. Antiseptics, anti-inflammatory, and anesthetic drugs to relieve swelling and pain.

Before you use any medicine, first speak with a medical professional for advice and determine which medication is best suited to your situation.

Greg Keily Chemist is an After Hours Chemist in Southport, Gold Coast. Our qualified pharmacists can assist you with medicine to treat insect bites and stings

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