Tips on insect bites
When the summer season arrives, the number of insect bites and stings increases. Most of the bites and stings are not very significant since they are usually mild. They are uncomfortable, annoying and itchy because they generate a slight allergic reaction to the saliva that the insect injects into your body before it bites.
Let’s take a brief look at the types of stings we can get, how to prevent them and what to do if we get stung.
What are the different insects we may be exposed to? What injuries and symptoms do they produce?
Most of the time, it will be the mosquitoes that cause the discomfort since it is the main insect present in humid places or stagnant water. The lesion that their bites generate on the skin is of the “papule” (granite) or “habon” (hives) type, producing itching without pain. They are usually visible on bare skin areas.
In any case, as there are other insects that can also be the cause, we will describe the characteristics of the different stings:
- Fleas (human, cat and dog fleas): Their bites usually occur on the arms or legs and are granite in a linear or irregular grouping. They are very itchy lesions.
- Bedbugs: Bedbugs are usually found in beds (mattresses or pillows) although during the day they can live in the crevices of walls or old furniture. They usually bite at night on the legs or buttocks, with zigzagging or clustering spots. They can be somewhat painful at first and then they can be quite itchy.
- Wasps and bees: From the moment of the sting, they cause severe pain and the surrounding area gradually becomes inflamed.
- Ticks: Ticks are large mites that produce a very itchy sting. If the tick remains attached to the skin, we will be able to see it as a black spot.
- Spiders: Spider bites usually generate a small blister (vesicle) or spot with two central points which is where the bite is. They usually bite and are rarely painful.
What symptoms do stings usually cause?
Generally, and as we have seen, the lesions generated usually have a local involvement being the “pimples” (papules), “hives” (wheals) or “blisters” (vesicles) which are more or less itchy and sometimes associated with pain.
Other times, especially in the case of people who are atopic or allergic to insect venom, they can be more intense lesions, but this is not usual and can generate less local lesions, as they are:
- Cellulite: This is a very inflamed area with a lot of heat and pain. It is a skin infection and is therefore treated with antibiotics. When in doubt, it is advisable to draw a circle around the inflammation to control if it increases a lot. Before any strange symptoms, vomiting, dizziness we must consult.
- Allergy: In these cases there is usually an excessive reaction, especially in the case of bee or wasp stings. Some of the symptoms are redness in some zone that is not in the sting, swelling in tongue, lips, eyes or face, difficulty when breathing, dizziness, sensation of fainting.
What should I do if I get stung?
There are several remedies for stings.
- Wash the affected area with soap and water. This will remove any irritating saliva still on your skin and help heal the sting without getting infected.
- Above all, avoid scratching. This will cause further irritation and may lead to scabbing and scarring. In case it was a bee sting and it left the sting, we should remove it if we can with tweezers.
- The ice applied to the affected area helps to control the itching and reduce inflammation.
- Some home remedies such as salt, vinegar, baking soda or mud reduce inflammation and relieve itching (be careful if we apply them on the injuries caused by previous scratching).
- Depending on the case, some antihistamines, anti-inflammatory drugs and topical corticoids may be useful (and as always when using a medication, it is preferable that it be medically supervised)
- There are solutions to soothe the skin that will help reduce itching, especially in early applications (e.g. “anti-itch pens” that often contain ammonia or calamine lotions)
- It is necessary to moisturize especially if we have produced lesions by scratching because the regeneration of the skin will be faster. We can apply aloe vera to improve the inflammation of the area, both in cream or directly from the stem of the plant.
How can I avoid being stung?
Prevention of stings can be done at home by putting screens on the windows or using scented candles that repel insects from the rooms. We must eliminate any source of standing water on our property to control mosquito breeding.
In case of trips to the countryside or simply being outdoors, we can use repellents in spray that we must spread all over our body. As a general rule we should avoid body perfumes and brightly coloured clothes. And if you get stung, take your “stinging pen” to prevent it from drying out and to limit the effects of the poison on your skin.
What if the sting gets complicated or I have a serious reaction?
We have already discussed the symptoms that should make us alert (redness somewhere other than the sting, swelling of the tongue, lips, eyes or face, difficulty breathing, dizziness, feeling faint). In these cases immediate assistance is necessary and should be assessed individually.
Is it necessary to take adrenaline?
Only patients who have already been diagnosed with hypersensitivity to insect venom or who have presented a serious event (anaphylactic reaction). They should be warned of the risk of suffering another event and carry a self-administered adrenaline kit in case of possible exposure.
What should I not do in case of a sting?
- Do not apply tourniquets.
- Do not apply ammonia directly to the skin. It is true that ammonia will calm the symptoms of the sting and many of the sting compounds on the market contain ammonia but they do so in minimal quantities, without the risk of burning. If you apply ammonia to your skin, you may get a burn.
- Do not squeeze the sting, you can spread the poison.
- Do not pee on the sting. If you’ve heard that urine can cure stings, it’s not true. It is said that urine can cure jellyfish stings because it contains urea and the urea counteracts the effects of the jellyfish venom. However, by urinating on the jellyfish sting, we can decompensate the salt level and enhance the burning.