Dealing with Insect Bites and Stings

Dealing with Insect Bites and Stings

For many people summer is their favorite time of year, but no one likes the increased chances of being bitten or stung by the various pests that proliferate this time of year. In addition, the bites and stings of some insects can be serious, causing severe reactions and even life-long chronic health problems. 

So your concierge family doctors at MD 2.0 in Jupiter, Florida, would like to offer you some tips that will help keep your outdoor fun as itch-free and sting-free as possible.

Bite and Sting Prevention

The best way to deal with insect bites and stings is to not get attacked in the first place.

Mosquitoes can can cause Zika, West Nile Virus, malaria, and other serious and even deadly diseases. Everyone has heard of the insect repellent DEET, which at 20 percent or higher strength, is effective in preventing mosquitoes from biting you. But picaridin may also be effective, because it may discourage the bugs from even landing on you in the first place.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also recommends lemon eucalyptus oil, para-menthane-diol (PMD), or 2-undecanone (methyl nonyl ketone) as effective mosquito repellents. The CDC also caution that people using sunscreen should apply it first, let it dry, and then apply mosquito repellant. For that reason, the CDC recommends against using products containing both sunscreen and repellant.

Ticks can cause Lyme disease (found in most states) and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (found in all states). DEET will also help repel them, as will garlic, either in tick repellent, or when planted around the yard. Permethrin, when applied outdoors to clothing, shoes, and hats, and allowed to dry, will last through several washings and is known to be an effective tick repellent.

The stings of various bees, wasps, and hornets can be quite painful, but are usually not life-threatening unless you are allergic. Avoid wearing brightly colored clothing or wearing fragrances that may look or smell like a flower to such pests. Walk barefoot through grass at your own risk: Bees hover around clover and may nest in the ground. Never drink from a can or cup that might contain a curious or thirsty insect. Always cover cans or cups with napkins or even a coffee filter or cupcake liner to prevent their venturing inside.

Be aware that killing a bee can often attract its brethren, and that swatting at them can excite them. Simply move away from them, unless you’re being pursued by a swarm, in which case run indoors to escape.

Bite and Sting Treatment

First, look for signs of a serious reaction (anaphylaxis) in any of these cases of bites or stings. If the person experiences any of the following, seek immediate medical help:

  • hives
  • difficulty breathing
  • rapid heartbeat
  • dizziness, faintness, or confusion
  • unusual redness of the skin (especially where the bite didn’t take place)
  • swelling of the lips, eyelids, or throat
  • nausea, cramps, or vomiting

While waiting for medical assistance, ask if they have an epinephrine auto injector, and if they want help inject. Even if they do have an injection kit and use it, they still must be seen by a doctor, so don’t make the mistake of thinking the emergency is over.

Loosen tight clothing and cover him with a blanket. If the person is vomiting, raise his head to prevent choking. Begin CPR if the person loses consciousness. Less serious bites and stings may still be intensely painful and/or itchy. Treatment ranges from the medical to folklore remedies.

Here are some home remedies people swear by, but remember that what works for some may not work for others.


Remove the stinger as soon as possible by scraping it out (not squeezing, which will release more venom) with a nail file, fingernail, or credit card. Hydrocortisone cream (.5 or 1 percent strength) or calamine lotion applied topically may reduce the pain, itching, and swelling. An over-the-counter antihistamine either taken orally or applied topically may also help with the itching.


A paste of water and aspirin or baking soda or meat tenderizer or powdered activated charcoal (not all four together) works for many people. The charcoal is the kind sold in capsules to relieve gas internally. Carefully open a couple capsules, add a drop or two of water and apply to the site.

Since it works best when it remains moist, cover it with a paper towel, gauze bandage, or even plastic wrap, and do not allow it to come in contact with furniture or clothing (it’s very difficult to remove). Other folkloric remedies include applying the cut side of an onion, vinegar, hot water, lavender, or crushed fresh basil leaves to the site.

In any case, if the bite or sting is still bothering you, do not hesitate to consult us.

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