Summer is a top season for bites and stings. During the warmer months, you may spend more time outdoors among the critters, and it’s also the time of year when many insects and spiders are most active. Insects shouldn’t keep you from summer fun, but you should take sensible precautions.
Summer Bites and Stings
Be on the lookout for the following creepy crawlies and their bites this summer.
Some areas see more mosquitoes than others, but most people are familiar with this warm-weather vampire. Mosquitoes drink blood, and they bite you to get it. Their bites cause small bumps that are red and puffy, and to add insult to injury, these bumps can create quite an itch.
While unpleasant, most mosquito bites aren’t serious. But some mosquitoes carry diseases. West Nile virus is one mosquito-borne disease that you could catch in the United States. Others include Eastern equine encephalitis and St. Louis encephalitis. And while these diseases aren’t common, they’re not unheard of. They may also be deadly.
Biting mite larvae are known as chiggers. Summer is a prime time for them to be active. They’re so tiny that you may not even see them, but you’ll notice their effects.
Once chiggers take hold, they can keep feeding on you for several days. Taking a shower as soon as you come inside can help prevent this. Chigger bites appear as an itchy rash, often on the lower half of the body.
Small arachnids called ticks love to feast on human blood. They bite and then settle in for a long meal. Burrowed into your skin, they’ll fill up with blood, and they can hold on for a week or more.
Many ticks are generally harmless but can cause itching or redness. Unfortunately, some ticks also carry diseases. Lyme disease, often marked by a bullseye rash, is the best known one. Rocky Mountain spotted fever is another. Typically, a tick has to stay attached for at least a full day before transmitting diseases.
After any outdoor experience, examine your body from head to toe to check for ticks. If you find one, use tweezers to remove the entire thing. The CDC has an online Tick Bite Bot that can help.
Most biting spiders are irritating but not serious. Other species, while rare, can cause major problems. One dangerous spider in the U.S. is the black widow. Another, found primarily in the South, is the brown recluse.
A spider bite is usually characterized by two small holes, with itching, mild pain, tenderness and red lumps among the fairly minor side effects. A white spot in the middle of the red bump is sometimes associated with more serious bites. Other symptoms that warrant medical attention include muscle spasms, upset stomach, chills and fever.
During the summer months, massive horseflies can be found throughout the continental U.S. They’re especially common in Florida.
With its strong, sharp jaws, the horsefly has a bite that can really sting. In addition to the initial sensation, the bites can also leave red, itchy bumps. Some horseflies even bruise their victims.
Bees, Wasps and Other Stinging Insects
Unlike biting insects, bees and their relatives attack with their stingers. Bees do it just once. Hornets and wasps can get you again and again. Either way, the stings are painful and leave welts.
The stinger may get stuck in your skin. If so, scrape it away. Tweezers are not recommended for the job.
Some people are allergic to these insects. Allergic reactions, including swollen throats and breathing problems, can be life-threatening and require immediate medical attention.
Despite their friendly name, kissing bugs bite people on the face, often in the middle of the night. They are most commonly found in the lower half of the country during the late spring and early summer.
You may have multiple red or swollen bites in one area. While kissing bugs are often harmless, it is possible to have an allergic reaction or catch Chagas disease from them.
Tiny fire ants are invasive pests now found in the southern part of the U.S. They can both bite and sting, but the sting is what really hurts. It leaves behind red bumps that turn into pus-filled blisters.
For most victims, the painful sting is the worst thing about fire ant attacks. Some people, though, experience dangerous allergic reactions within the first hour.
Bug Bite First Aid
You probably know the general guidelines for preventing insect bites, but here’s a refresher:
- Use insect repellent that contains DEET, especially if you’re in deep woods.
- Wear long pants, long sleeves and closed-toed shoes in grassy or wooded areas.
- Treat your outdoor clothing with permethrin.
- Remove sources of standing water from your yard.
Once you get bitten or stung, it’s time to switch into first aid mode. Fortunately, some basic first aid steps may be all that it takes to tame the pain, itching, redness and irritation.
First, wash the site with soap and water. Once the area is clean, apply an ice pack. Cold can ease itching and reduce swelling.
To help with the itching, you can use topical ointments, too. Many anti-itch creams contain hydrocortisone. For a homemade alternative, mix baking soda with a few drops of water to form a paste. Slather this anti-itch treatment onto your bite. After 10 minutes, rinse your skin thoroughly.
Over-the-counter oral medications can help as well. For itching, use an antihistamine, such as Benadryl. Painkillers can help with bee stings and bites that smart. Before you take any meds, though, check with your doctor. Even OTC antihistamines might interact with prescriptions you might be taking, so it’s a good idea to check before taking any new drugs.
For the most part, a bit of first aid care is all that’s needed to relieve bug bites. After a day or two, the bite should look better, and it shouldn’t bother you as much. There are times, though, when you might need extra care.
Some extreme situations happen right after an encounter with a biting or stinging insect. For instance, allergic reactions usually start within two hours. Symptoms of an allergic reaction vary but might include:
- Swelling and/or tightening of your mouth and/or throat
- Hives on your skin
- Upset stomach
- Labored breathing
If you notice any signs of a possible allergic reaction, dial 911 and seek emergency care. And if you’re unsure, seek help anyway.
Some insect bites don’t show signs of serious trouble for a few days. Often, complications happen because the site becomes infected. That’s a problem called cellulitis.
Other times, a disease transmitted by an insect could leave you feeling sick. The venomous bites of certain critters, such as brown recluse spiders, can also be the cause of serious symptoms.
See a doctor if the bite site continues to grow in size. One way to tell is to trace the outline of the bite with an ink pen. If the affected area spreads beyond your circle, you’ll know for sure that it’s growing.
Increasing redness or hardness of the area can also indicate a problem. Some infected bites feel hot to the touch. Hives, rings or streaks around the bite are added reasons for concern.
Feeling all-around awful is another reason to seek medical care. Infections can cause fatigue, fever, body aches, headaches, chills and nausea. Some people also develop swollen lymph nodes.
If you experience any of these symptoms — or have a general suspicion that something’s not right — contact your doctor or go to urgent care. Call 911 for breathing problems and other life-threatening symptoms.