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Don’t Let Summertime Sting: How to Safely Prevent, Identify, and Treat Common Bug Bites

August 4, 2020

-Dr. Stephanie Flaherty, Jefferson Health Family Medicine Physician

Summer brings ample opportunity to leave your house and take in the great outdoors! However, where there’s nature, there’s also plenty of pesky bugs ready to bite.

As itchy as many bites are, it’s important to refrain from scratching them – that goes for you and the kids – as any break in skin opens up the door to infection!

Not only is proper treatment important for infection prevention, but some bites can cause serious complications.

To prevent most bites, you can:

  • Use insect repellant (this should be applied after sunscreen and only on skin that is showing).
  • Wear clothing that covers arms and legs, when appropriate.
  • For infants and toddlers in strollers/carriers, cover them in mosquito netting.

Bee Stings:

If you’ve never been stung by a bee, the possibility of being allergic can be daunting. Typical bee stings will result in immediate sharp pain and redness and swelling at the site. For those with moderate allergies, the redness and swelling could enlarge over a couple of days.

Don’t fret! While they are painful and frightening, treatment is simple. Carefully remove the stinger and wash the site with soap and water. To ease swelling and pain, apply ice and take Benadryl® and/or over-the-counter (OTC) pain medicine.

For a small percentage of people, bee stings can be life-threatening; a severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) requires emergency care. Anaphylaxis is quick in onset, and symptoms include:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Swelling of the throat and tongue
  • A weak, rapid pulse
  • Nausea, vomiting or diarrhea
  • Dizziness or fainting

If you have an EpiPen, be sure to dial 9-1-1 anytime it is needed, as it will only help symptoms temporarily.

Mosquitos:

Most mosquito bites appear almost immediately, as a round and puffy bump. Slight redness, hardness, and swelling is normal. While they are annoying, they typically aren’t a cause for concern. Adequate treatment can be taken care of at home with Benadryl, ice, and topical hydrocortisone cream to relive itching.

If you have a compromised immune system, you may experience more severe symptoms, such as hives, a larger patch of redness and swelling, or even swollen lymph nodes.

If symptoms persist longer than 48 hours, you should call your primary care provider.

Spiders:

Most spider bites cause a similar reaction as that of a mosquito and can be treated the same. However, some “creepy crawlies” you’ll want to watch out for in New Jersey include house spiders, like brown recluses and black widows. Both can cause moderate to severe reactions, but, luckily, they aren’t aggressive and tend to only bite when threatened.

If you don’t know whether or not you’ve been bitten, some warning signs may include:

  • Nausea
  • Chills
  • Fever
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Rash
  • Itching

Young children are at a higher risk for more severe complications once bitten and immediate medical attention is paramount. For adults, however, some bites can be treated with home remedies, including ice, antibiotic cream, and OTC pain medicine.

If the pain worsens or a blister/ulcer starts to form, you should call your primary care provider.

Ticks:

Ticks are most commonly found in wooded areas. In South Jersey, this can very well be in your own backyard. Once on the body, they like to hide in warm, damp places. Timely removal of these sneaky insects is essential, as they can carry Lyme disease.

You can take the following measures to prevent picking up ticks:

  • Use a chemical repellent with DEET, permethrin, or picaridin.
  • Wear light-colored protective clothing.
  • Tuck pant legs into socks.
  • Check yourself, your children, and your pets daily for ticks. Use a hand-held or full-length mirror to view hard-to-see body parts, such as the underarms; around the ears; inside the belly button; behind the knees; and between the legs.

Most ticks can easily be removed. The CDC offers thorough instructions on how to do so, HERE.

If you develop a rash, muscle aches, or fevers, within several weeks of removing a tick, you could have Lyme disease. Contact your doctor immediately and tell them about your recent bite. Don’t delay treatment – severe cases could cause facial palsy, heart palpitations, and inflammation of the brain and spinal cord.

Chiggers:

Chiggers are miniscule mites, found in particularly grassy and moist areas, such as near rivers or streams, that like to feast on your skin. While not as common as the above bug bites and stings, they can occur and cause a red, itchy, bumpy rash.

Chigger bites can occur anywhere on the body, but more commonly in clusters around the waist and ankles. It’s important to wash the affected area thoroughly with soap and water to brush off any chiggers that may still be hanging on. You should also wash any clothes or blankets that may have been used in the area where you picked them up.

The rash is often mild and will resolve in 1-2 weeks. It can be soothed with an OTC anti-itch ointment, such as calamine lotion or hydrocortisone cream, as well as cold compresses, and Benadryl. In rare cases, if symptoms don’t subside, further medical care may be needed.

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