Preventing and Treating Insect Bites

Last updated: Jun 01, 2011

By Joy Pierce Mathews for Summit Medical Group

 As you enjoy the warm days of summer, these simple steps can protect you and your loved ones from insect bites:

  • Use door and window screens
  • Avoid areas where insects nest, including wood piles and wooded areas with a thick ground brush
  • Avoid using scented soaps and perfumes 
  • Spray all exposed skin with insect repellent* that contains 30% DEET (child-safe repellents have less than 10% DEET)
  • Spray clothing with insect repellent
  • Wear light-colored clothing to make it easy to spot ticks and other insects
  • Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants with the cuffs tucked into your socks
  • Wear boots, preferably made of rubber
  • Check yourself, others, and your pets during and after your walk
  • Remove your clothes and thoroughly inspect your skin, including your scalp, once you’re inside

Although insect repellent can help guard against bites, it’s important to handle it with care. First, be sure to follow the product's instructions and age limits. When using insect repellent on your clothes, do not spray it on inside your home, use it on your face, spray wounds and irritated skin, or spray it under your clothes. Be sure to wash the repellent off once you’ve gone inside. Remember, too, that insect repellents don't always protect you from stinging insects such as wasps, bees, and fire ants.

If You Are Bitten or Stung
"Most insect bites and stings can be treated with over-the-counter medications such as hydrocortisone cream to relieve pain and itching. But in some people, venomous stinging insects such as yellow jackets may cause potentially life-threatening reactions," says Summit Medical Group allergist and immunologist Kerry LeBenger, MD.

"If you suspect that you might be allergic to stinging insects, you should see an allergist," says Dr. LeBenger. "He or she can help determine which venoms are likely to cause serious reactions in you. An allergist also can tell you how to prevent and manage serious allergic reactions."

Bee Stings
Unlike other stinging insects, honey bees leave their stingers in the skin. Removing a stinger quickly and properly can help keep symptoms from worsening. The best way to remove a stinger is to use a credit card or dull blade to scrape the stinger out of the skin. Using tweezers or pinching the skin to push the stinger out can cause more venom to be released in the skin.

For insect bites that cause redness, swelling, pain, and itching, you should apply:

  • Soap and cool water to thoroughly wash the area
  • An ice pack or cool compress
  • A baking-soda paste
  • 1 part meat tenderizer with 4 parts of water; soak a cotton ball in the solution and apply it to the bite for 10 to 20 minutes 
  • A topical steroid (hydrocortisone cream) or anti-itch formula with zinc and ferric oxides (calamine lotion)

You also can use an oral antihistamine such as diphenhydramine (Benadryl®) for itching. Ibuprofen and acetaminophen also can help relieve pain associated with stings and bites. Your doctor may prescribe an oral steroid if your reaction is severe.

If your bite or sting becomes infected, see your doctor. He or she might need to prescribe an antibiotic to fight the infection.
 

To find out if you might be allergic to certain insect bites or stings,
please call Summit Medical Group Allergy and Immunology today at 908-277-8681.

 

If your child has been bitten or stung by an insect
and the reaction appears severe or you suspect an infection,
please call Summit Medical Group Pediatrics at  908-273-4300.

 

Adults who would like to see a doctor about an insect bite or sting
should call Summit Medical Group Family Practice at 908-277-8602.

 

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