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Insect Bites

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Written by Andrew Le, MD.
Medically reviewed by
Clinical Physician Assistant, Summit Health
Last updated June 5, 2024

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Care Plan


First steps to consider

  • Most bug bites can be treated at home with OTC anti-itch cream like calamine lotion or hydrocortisone cream.
  • An antihistamine, like Zyrtec or Claritin, can also help with itching or mild allergic reactions.
  • Applying cold packs to the bite or sting site can help.
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When you may need a provider

  • You have tried home treatments for more than 3 days and they are not helping.
  • You develop a rash with intense itching, or a rash that has a bullseye.
  • You find a tick that you think has been on you for more than 36 hours
  • The area around the bite has become painful, swollen, red, and warm to the touch.
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Emergency Care

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Go to the ER if you have any of these symptoms:

  • Trouble breathing
  • Swelling of your mouth or throat
  • Vomiting or abdominal pain
  • Fever or chills, body aches, joint pain, fatigue, and headaches
  • Intense pain where you were bitten
  • You think you may have been bitten by a widow or recluse spider.

Types of insect bites

Most people know the itchy small welts of a mosquito bite, but there are many other types of bugs—from bed bugs to ticks to black flies—that can take a nip out of us. And then there are bees and wasps with their painful stingers.

Most insect bites and stings can be itchy or painful, and sometimes red and swollen. But some bug bites can also cause more serious issues like an allergic reaction or, as in the case of ticks, they can sometimes transmit diseases.

If an insect bite is itchy, you can usually treat it with OTC medications, like an antihistamine and hydrocortisone creams, but some types of bites may need to be treated by a healthcare provider.

Symptoms of insect bites

The most common symptoms of insect bites and stings are minor itching, irritation, or pain by the bite. Several minutes after the bite or sting,you may notice swelling and redness. For most bites or stings, the swelling will be small and should only last several hours to a few days.

Main symptoms

  • Redness
  • Itching
  • Minor swelling
  • Pain or tenderness

Less common symptoms

  • An allergic reaction can cause a stronger skin reaction, like a large area of redness and swelling around the bite or sting.
  • A large area of redness and skin that’s warm and painful to touch could be a sign of an infection called cellulitis.
  • A severe allergic reaction, called anaphylaxis, may include trouble breathing, swelling of your mouth and throat, immediate rash, vomiting, and fainting.

How do I know what type of bug bite or sting I have?

Here’s how to tell what type of bug may have bitten you:

Mosquito bites

Mosquitoes usually cause small, red bumps and the itching starts right after you're bitten. You can often see a small dot where you were bitten. Young children may get more severe swelling.

Tick bites

Ticks can carry Lyme disease, which needs to be treated with antibiotics. Ticks attach to your skin, so the tick may actually still be there when you find the bite. Tick bites are often in warm places of the body like the groin, behind the knees, on the scalp, and in the armpits. If you see a red rash that looks like a bullseye, it may be a sign of early Lyme disease. It can take 1–2 weeks after being bitten for the rash to appear.

Mite bites

Mite bites are usually small, red, and itchy, and often are grouped together on a small area of the body. When mites infest your skin and lay eggs, it is known as scabies, Scabies can be very itchy and usually causes red lines on the skin. It is often inside the webs of fingers, wrists, armpits, and groin areas.

Bed bug bites

Bed bug bites look like multiple small red bumps, usually appearing in clusters or lines on your skin. They can be itchy and often have a small red dot in the middle of each bump.

Fly bites

Fly bites are usually painful and sharp when they occur. Common flies in the U.S. include black flies, horse flies, and deer flies. Occasionally bites can become itchy and cause allergic reactions.

Spider bites

Spider bites often look like a single isolated bump or fluid-filled sac. Some spiders, like brown recluse spiders, are more dangerous and can cause severe pain and burning, and a dark purple or blue spot with a red ring around it, or an open sore. A bite from a black widow spider can cause muscle pain and numbness around the bite or bodywide muscle pain and tremors. It also sometimes causes headache, nausea, and vomiting.

Bee stings

Bees can plunge their tiny stingers into your skin and release a bit of venom. It usually just causes pain and some redness around the sting for a few minutes that then goes away. But some people are allergic to bee stings and may have a serious reaction, like swelling and trouble breathing.

Next steps

If you are bitten by an insect, in most cases you can treat it at home. However, if you have any trouble breathing or swelling of your mouth or throat, you should immediately go to the ER or call 911. If you know you are allergic and have an EpiPen, then use it right away.

If you have a rash or redness that continues for several days without getting better, you should see a healthcare provider.


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Preventative tips

  • If you’re outside when mosquitoes are active, use insect repellent.
  • You should also try to wear long sleeves and pants during outdoor activities, especially if you think you may be exposed to ticks, like when hiking in the woods.
  • After a hike or other activities in wooded or grassy areas, be sure to do a thorough tick check. Use a magnifying glass to check your body, especially where ticks like to attach, like the groin, behind your knees, and your scalp. Also, check your clothes and pets.
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Clinical Physician Assistant, Summit Health
Jeff brings to Buoy 20 years of clinical experience as a physician assistant in urgent care and internal medicine. He also has extensive experience in healthcare administration, most recently as developer and director of an urgent care center. While completing his doctorate in Health Sciences at A.T. Still University, Jeff studied population health, healthcare systems, and evidence-based medicine....
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