While you may wait all year for summer to roll around, one aspect of the season that no one looks forward to is the massive increase in insects. Whether you’ve been bitten or stung by a mosquito, bee, wasp, tick, flea, mite or ant, the itching and burning sensation that follows is never pleasant. And in some cases, it can be serious. How do you know when to see a doctor versus just letting the bite fade with time? Let’s talk about bug bites and what to do about them.
Why Does It Itch?
All bug bites kickstart an allergic reaction, but the degree varies by type of insect and your own personal response to the sting. When a insect stings or bites you, it leaves behind a bit of its own venom or saliva. These substances are foreign to your body, so in response your immune system naturally produces histamine around the wound. This histamine is what causes the unrelenting itching sensation you are so painfully familiar with.
Preventive Care is the Best Treatment
Of course, the best way to treat a bug bite is to avoid getting one in the first place. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends using EPA-approved bug repellents that contain at least 20 percent DEET. It’s also important to cover exposed skin when outside and to try to remain indoors in cool rooms when possible.
Windows and doors to your home should remain shut or covered by a screen to prevent bugs from entering. If you must be outdoors, many ingredients you may already have in your home can be used to repel insects as well. Lavender, eucalyptus, citronella and lemongrass oils can be dotted onto skin or clothing to keep you bite-free. Rubbing small amounts of apple cider vinegar onto your skin can also make you smell less appetizing to mosquitoes and other pests.
Treating Insect Bites
While it’s important to take precautions against the many insects that come along with summer, it’s realistic to expect a few bites and stings this season. Thankfully, most insect bites and stings can be treated at home with simple remedies according to Parents magazine. Here are some ideas:
- Steep bags of green tea and store them in a sealed bag in your refrigerator or freezer. Apply the chilled tea bags to bug bites to soothe redness and itching. Green tea has anti-inflammatory properties, which help speed up the healing process, while the cool temperature soothes the burning feeling by constricting the surrounding blood vessels.
- Crush up fresh basil leaves until they reach a paste consistency. Spread this paste over the bite or sting and cover with a Bandaid. Basil leaves contain menthol and camphor, which soothe itching and cool the treated area.
- Apply Calamine lotion to prevent infection from spreading to other areas of the body. Calamine lotion contains antiseptic properties, which help the bite heal faster.
- Apply tea tree oil (diluted with water for sensitive skin) to the affected area to quickly relieve itching. Tea tree oil is well known for its antibacterial properties.
You can also hit up your medicine cabinet for relief. Crush up aspirin tablets and mix with water to create a paste. Apply this paste to the bite to allow the aspirin’s anti-inflammatory agents to get to work reducing the itch and swelling. Using vapor rub containing menthol will also soothe and cool the affected area, but if you’re fresh out of Vick’s, try 100 percent Aloe Vera gel – or the real stuff from inside your own aloe plant – for soothing relief of common rashes, bites, and stings.
When Should You See a Doctor?
While the majority of bug bites and stings are simply irritants, some can lead to something more serious. So how do you know when a bug bite warrants a doctor visit? According to the American Academy of Dermatology, bug bites can become dangerous if you’re allergic to the bug’s venom, you’ve been stung by a lot of insects all at once, or if the insect is carrying a disease. Luckily, there are symptoms to look out for. See a physician if you experience:
- Chest pain, difficulty breathing and/or throat tightness, which are all common symptoms of an allergic reaction
- A rapid heart rate that lasts more than a few minutes
- Swollen face, lips and/or tongue
- A red, donut-shaped rash that forms after a suspected tick bite (this could be a symptom of Lyme’s disease)
Of course, if you’re ever concerned about a bug bite, talk to your doctor right away. It’s always better to be safe than sorry. You can also see an urgent care clinic or a retail clinic for common stings, since these facilities are equipped to handle insect bites and can be more flexible than your doctor’s office. Bottom line: Cover up and stay inside when you can. If you have to go out, be liberal with the bug spray. And talk to a doctor if your run-of-the-mill sting starts to turn into something else.