Insect and spider bites are often no more than a nuisance, but occasionally they can cause dangerous symptoms and complications, especially if you have an allergic reaction or contract a disease from the bite. Throughout summer, more time spent outdoors means a greater risk of insect and spider bites, but you can stay safe from bug bites at barbecues, picnics, or sporting events by knowing how to prevent, diagnose, and treat bites.
If you experience any of the symptoms of allergic reaction or illness outlined below, you should seek immediate professional medical treatment at your nearest urgent care.
Preventing insect & spider bites
- When going into the woods or other areas where you might come into contact with insects or spiders, always wear insect repellant and clothing that covers all areas of the body.
- Wear gloves or closed-toed shoes if you are working in areas where insects and spiders are prominent, such as near piles of wood.
- Avoid wearing perfumed lotions, aftershave, or scented hair products when spending time outdoors in the warm months.
- Remove areas of standing water near your home or camping area.
- If you encounter bugs or spiders, remain calm and avoid swatting or flailing. Instead, retreat slowly if insects appear threatening.
Symptoms of severe allergic reaction
Anaphylaxis is a severe, life-threatening allergic reaction. Signs of anaphylaxis typically occur within seconds to minutes of exposure and include sneezing, wheezing, hives, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, sudden anxiety, dizziness, difficulty breathing, difficulty swallowing, chest tightness, and itching or swelling of the eyes, lips, or other areas of the face. Anaphylaxis is a medical emergency that warrants calling 9-1-1 immediately. If you or your child has had an allergic reaction to a sting or bite, you should be evaluated by an allergist. You may be advised to wear an allergy identification tag or to carry epinephrine, a medication used to treat allergic reactions in emergencies.
Symptoms of Lyme Disease
Lyme disease is transmitted through the bite of an infected tick, and can cause fever, headaches, fatigue, and a skin rash that looks like a circular red patch, or “bullseye.” Patients who are treated with antibiotics in the early stages of the infection usually recover rapidly and completely, but left untreated, infection can spread to the joints, heart, and nervous system.
Symptoms of West Nile Virus
West Nile virus, which is transmitted by infected mosquitoes, can produce flu-like symptoms, including fever, headache, stiff neck, body aches, and skin rash. While most infected individuals have mild symptoms and recover spontaneously, infection can be serious or even fatal. West Nile virus treatment consists of supportive care and, occasionally, intravenous anti-viral therapy.
Symptoms of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever
Initial symptoms may include fever, nausea, vomiting, severe headache, severe neck pain, muscle pain, and lack of appetite. The characteristic red, spotted rash of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever is usually not seen until the sixth day or later after symptoms begin, and as many as 10 percent to 15 percent of patients may never develop a rash at all. Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever is treated with antibiotics.
Signs of infection
It is normal for a bite or sting to result in redness of the affected area and minor swelling. However, if redness or swelling persists for more than 72 hours, or if a fever develops, it may signify an infection. Doctor-prescribed antibiotics are a common treatment for infection.
Should you suspect that you or a family member may be infected with any of the above diseases, or if you are experiencing any of the above reactions, please seek immediate medical attention.
Insect bite self-treatment
If you are stung or bit by a bee or insect, and do not notice any of the above symptoms of allergic reaction, illness, or infection, you can most likely treat the injury at home. Wash the bite or sting with soap and warm water, and apply a cool compress to reduce swelling. To ease pain, you can take NSAIDs, like aspirin or acetaminophen.
To reduce pain and swelling, apply an ice pack for up to 20 minutes once per hour for the first six hours. An oral antihistamine or cream applied directly to the sting, like Benadryl, may help relieve mild symptoms, like itching.
Because the symptoms of many insect-bite-transmitted diseases are similar to symptoms of the flu, but can have much more serious consequences, you should always visit a IMC Immediate Medical Care if you experience flu-like symptoms that won’t subside, or if you have persistent symptoms following self-treatment of a bug bite.