While for most of us, summer bug bites are a minor nuisance, for some they can represent a serious health threat, says Margie Andreae, M.D., of the University of Michigan Medical School.
Dr. Andreae offers the following tips on how to treat insect stings, and also on how to prevent mosquito and tick bites.
- Remove the stinger. The first thing to do when stung by a bee or wasp is to look and see if the stinger is still there. If it is, you should use a firm object such as a credit card to sweep across the site and pull out the stinger. Don't squeeze or pinch the skin, as this will cause additional venom to be released into the bite.
- Clean the area. Use soap and water to thoroughly cleanse the site of the sting before applying ice or hydrocortisone cream.
- Apply ice to reduce swelling.
- Apply hydrocortisone cream to relieve redness and pain.
- Take a pain reliever and an antihistamine.
- Should a bite or string be followed up by difficulty breathing or swallowing — signs of a severe allergic reaction — call 911 and seek emergency care immediately.
West Nile Virus, which is transmitted by mosquitoes, is also a concern during the warm summer months, particularly for people over age 50. WNV causes flu-like symptoms, followed by severe headache, coma or even seizures.
How to avoid summer insect bites:
- Use insect repellents with DEET.
- Stay away from open containers of soda and juice; these attract stinging insects.
- Avoid standing water, where mosquitoes breed. "Empty or cover backyard pools at the end of the day, and don't leave any potted plants outside that may contain standing water," says Andreae.
- Dress appropriately. Shoes, long pants and a lightweight long-sleeved shirt cover the skin and provide protection against biting and stinging insects.
People who live in the northeast and upper Midwest need to be on the look-out for ticks carrying Lyme disease. About 80 percent of those with Lyme disease will develop a rash that looks like a bull's-eye near the bite. This rash is often accompanied by flu-like symptoms such as fever or headache, nausea and vomiting.
"A small number of people will go on to develop secondary illness or complications from Lyme disease that most often affect large joints and cause pain and swelling," says Andreae. "So any individual with a rash at the site of a known tick bite should be evaluated by a medical professional for possible treatment and testing for Lyme disease."