Summer is here and most Americans head outdoors to enjoy the season. Indoors or out, bugs are everywhere, and it’s not uncommon to experience a sting or bug bite. Some common culprits include bees, wasps, and hornets; ticks; biting flies; fire ants; spiders; and the ubiquitous mosquito. In most cases, bug bites or stings don’t require medical care. You can usually treat bites and stings at home using readily available over the counter topical preparations and oral antihistamines, to reduce itching, pain, and swelling.
Hydrocortisone cream and other topical steroids are particularly useful to reduce redness and itching from an allergic type reaction. Benadryl, Claritin, Zyrtec, and Allegra are favorite oral antihistamine preparations, although Benadryl, an older drug, is associated with more sedation as a side effect.
The most important reason to seek medical care is in case of a severe allergic reaction to a bite or sting. This type of reaction is known as an anaphylactic reaction and can result in rapid collapse of your cardiovascular system, obstruction of breathing, and death. If you begin to experience difficulty breathing, swelling of the face, tongue, or lips; chest pain or palpitations; a sensation of your throat closing; dizziness, headache, or vomiting, you should seek emergency care immediately. If you have a serious allergic reaction, your doctor will prescribe an EpiPen, which contains epinephrine, to carry with you and use in case of another reaction.
Infectious diseases carried by mosquitos and ticks
Mosquitos and ticks can also spread a variety of infectious diseases. If you live (or have visited) in an area where there have been reports of Lyme disease, malaria, Zika, West Nile, or other insect-borne diseases, then you should see a physician if you develop any systemic symptoms like fatigue, rash, or fever after a bite or sting, or after traveling through an area where these illnesses are endemic. If you are in an area where Lyme disease is relatively common, for example, you may notice a large, target shaped lesion after a tick bite that should prompt a visit for blood tests at your doctor’s office. Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever is a serious bacterial infection that is also carried by ticks and causes a fever and a spotty red or black rash that spreads rapidly. If you develop similar symptoms after possible exposure to a tick, seek emergency care, because this illness is rapidly progressive and can be fatal.
Although tick and mosquito bites are usually harmless, there are a number of serious illnesses that can result from a mosquito bite or tick. If you notice a tick on your body, grasp the head of the tick with tweezers and pull straight back. Don’t squeeze or twist the body when attempting to remove a tick.
Skin and soft tissue infections
If you scratch a bite or sting, there is an increased risk that it will become infected. If you develop redness or warmth at the site of a bite or sting, see your doctor to determine is you have an infection or abscess of the skin and soft tissues underneath.
In general, you should try to use preventive strategies, like use of long sleeves, mosquito netting, screens, and a good insect repellant when outdoors in areas that have a large population of ticks or mosquitos. If an insect stings you, then wash the area, keep it clean, and to avoid infection, don’t pick or scratch the lesion.