You and your health

Treating insect bites

By JAMES D. LOMAX
Posted 8/4/22

We are enjoying our warmer summer season here in the Catskills. Besides the warm weather and sun, we are also experiencing stings and bites from a wide variety of insects, bees, wasps and …

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You and your health

Treating insect bites

Posted

We are enjoying our warmer summer season here in the Catskills. Besides the warm weather and sun, we are also experiencing stings and bites from a wide variety of insects, bees, wasps and flies.

It would be helpful to review first aid care for when we get stung or bitten, and what to do if there is a potentially serious allergic reaction.

Most of the insects that we encounter are arthropods (six-legged, with biting mouthparts) or Hymenoptera (bees, hornets, yellow jackets and wasps).

Some insects that populate the area are involved in the spread of diseases.

Ticks can transmit Lyme disease and other illnesses.

In unsanitary conditions, the common housefly can spread human intestinal infections—such as amoebic dysentery—by contaminating human food.

Bites from deer flies can spread tularemia (“rabbit fever”).

Various mosquitoes spread viral diseases such as encephalitis and West Nile fever.

Chiggers and mites cause self-limited localized itchiness and swelling.

The black widow or brown recluse spider can cause serious bites.

Bites or stings can inject proteins into our skin that often trigger allergic reactions. This is especially true of bee or wasp stings, which for some vulnerable individuals can lead to a life-threatening anaphylactic reaction.

Mosquitoes do not cause significant illnesses, unless they carry microorganisms that are transmitted to the animal or human they bite. Malaria is the best known example in other parts of the world, but in many states in the U.S., including New York, cases of West Nile fever are reported each year from mosquito bites in susceptible humans.

Complications from insect bites and stings

We experience various reactions to bites and stings depending on the insect. Most result in pain, swelling, redness and itching to the affected area. If the skin is broken, it can become infected if the area is scratched. If not promptly treated, these local infections can lead to potentially serious soft tissue infections (or cellulitis) to large body areas.

If the person is allergic to the venom or protein, a severe reaction can quickly develop with hives (urticaria), wheezing, shortness of breath, unconsciousness and even death within 30 minutes. A sting on the tongue or lip can quickly lead to airway swelling and obstruction. Muscle breakdown and kidney failure can occur when a person receives multiple bee stings.

First aid or self-care for insect bites and stings

If stung or bitten, leave the area where it occurred. This is particularly true of bees, because they can recruit other bees in the area to also sting you.

If you have been stung by a bee and the stinger is still in the skin, remove the stinger as quickly as possible.

If you have been stung on the arm or leg, lower the limb at the time of the sting to slow the spread of venom. Hours later, if swelling is present, you can elevate the limb to help reduce swelling.

After contact with a stinging caterpillar, remove broken-off spines by placing cellophane tape over the area of the contact and then pulling it off.

Apply an ice pack to a bite or sting for 15 to 20 minutes once an hour for the first six hours. Always keep a cloth between your skin and the ice pack.

An oral antihistamine, such as Benadryl or Chlor-Trimeton, could help relieve itching, redness and swelling. Do not give antihistamines to your child unless you’ve checked with the doctor first. Be sure to follow the nonprescription medicine precautions.

Anesthetic spray containing benzocaine can be helpful in reducing pain.

Hydrocortisone 1% cream, Benadryl and calamine lotion applied to the skin could help relieve itching and redness. Again, check with your doctor about the use of these creams on children younger than age two.

When you should seek medical care

See your doctor if you develop generalized hives—red, raised blotchy skin lesions that are very itchy—or any other unusual rash.

Infected bites appear red, could be with or without pus, and are warm to the touch. Fever and the development of red streaks that spread up an extremity mean a potential systemic infection and you need to see your doctor urgently.

Call your doctor if an open wound develops, which could suggest a spider bite.

People who experience severe reactions should go to the nearest hospital’s emergency department after a bite or sting.

If you have a known allergy that leads to a serious reaction, always carry a fresh epinephrine-pen with you at all times.

Other protections that can help you avoid insect bites or stings:

Avoid rapid, jerky movements when around insect hives or nests.

Avoid using perfumes, lotions and scented soaps if you are going to be outside for a period of time.

Avoid areas where you know insects live.

Use insect repellents and protective clothing, especially if you are working or hiking in areas of tall grass.

Be careful when eating outdoors, especially if you have sweet drinks or are in areas near garbage cans.

Make sure you have screens on all windows.

If you have significant reactions to mosquitoes, avoid being outside at dawn or dusk, when they are the most active.

Use citronella and geraniol candles when sitting outside. Geraniol is considered the most effective in repelling mosquitoes. If you are sensitive to DEET, geraniol also comes in spray form and is an effective repellent of flying insects.

Avoiding bites and stings is much easier if we spend a few moments applying repellent to our skin and protective clothing before going outside. Consult with your doctor if you have any questions about the safety of skin products or use of non-prescription medication.

Catskills, insect stings, insect bites, first aid

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