As you enjoy the great outdoors or cozy up in bed at night, encountering bugs is sometimes unavoidable.
You know how annoying these little creatures can be if you have an itchy bug bite. While most bug bites are harmless, some can cause discomfort, and in rare cases, seriously threaten your health.
Read on to understand more about seven common types of bug bites, their symptoms and how to treat them.
You’re enjoying a lovely evening outdoors when suddenly you hear that high-pitched whine. A mosquito, the insect world’s tiny vampire, has appeared.
Mosquitoes usually hang out in humid, shaded areas near standing water like pools, ponds and lakes. They leave their saliva behind when they bite, which tends to cause red, itchy bumps that can drive you bonkers.
“Sometimes, you may notice a larger amount of swelling in children and around areas of the body like your eyelids, elbows and cheeks,” said Jasjot Johar, MD, an emergency medicine specialist with Banner Health.
In addition to being bloodsuckers, mosquitoes can also pass various viruses like Zika, West Nile and malaria.
Commonly found in wooded or grassy areas, ticks are another bug famous for spreading diseases like Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever.
These annoying hitchhikers seek out warm, damp areas on your body, like in and around your ears and hair, between the legs and under the arms. Some common symptoms may include a red rash at the bite site, blister, pain and swelling.
“You should carefully remove the tick from the skin as soon as you find them,” Dr. Johar said. “If you develop flu-like symptoms, sensitivity to light or a rash after removing the tick, you should see your health care provider.”
Bed bug bites
If you wake up with unexplained red, itchy bumps, you may have bed bugs as bunkmates.
These tiny bugs like to hide in beds, but they can also be found in luggage, on clothing and in other furniture. They mainly bite at night. And get this: They can survive for months without feeding!
“Bed bugs tend to bite in clusters, often on extremities like your arms and legs,” Dr. Johar said. “You may notice red, swollen, itchy bumps, but other times you may not even know you’ve been bitten.”
Learn more about bed bugs and how to get rid of them.
Spiders are not out to get you, but some bites may leave you thinking otherwise. The good news is that venomous or poisonous spider bites are very rare.
“There are only two species of venomous spiders in North America: black widows and brown recluse spiders,” Dr. Johar noted. “These species are shy and tend to stay away from people. But they may bite in self-defense.”
Most spider bites look similar to bee stings. Keep an eye out for growing redness and other serious symptoms, like stomach cramping, muscle pain and problems breathing. If you experience these symptoms, call 911.
“Black widow spider bites may be treated with a specific anti-venom/antidote that we use if needed,” Dr. Johar said. “Often, we can identify the cause of the bite based on symptoms, so it’s not necessary to capture or bring in the insect.”
If you live in an area where brown recluse and black widow spiders are common, clear the area around your house. Clear wood piles, ensure windows and doors have tight seals and keep your home clean and clutter-free.
Fun fact: Chiggers are close relatives of spiders and ticks. These tiny mites are found in grassy areas near water and can leave really itchy bites “typically in skin folds and between fingers and toes,” Dr. Johar said.
Chiggers live outdoors on plants. They will attach to your clothing and move onto your skin to bite your skin. The bites usually don’t hurt. However, the bites will begin to itch within a few hours and may last a few days.
When humans get flea bites, it’s usually because fleas often hitch a ride on our furry friends. “The bites tend to leave clustered red bumps around the lower legs and feet,” Dr. Johar said.
Some ways to prevent them are to treat your pet for fleas, wash bedding and vacuum regularly.
Fire ant bites
Found a mound of fire ants? They can be found in your yard, parks and pastures. These pesky bugs hang onto your skin when they bite and they can bite you multiple times, causing painful, itchy and swollen bumps. Sometimes, the bites may have cloudy fluid inside.
Home remedies for bug bites
If you’ve been bitten and are now itching for relief, Dr. Johar shared some general treatment tips that may give some relief:
- Clean the bite area: Wash the area with mild soap and water to prevent infection. Pat it dry gently.
- Cool compress: Apply an ice pack to reduce swelling and numb the itch.
- Anti-itch cream: Over-the-counter creams or ointments with 1% hydrocortisone or an antihistamine (Benadryl) cream may help the itch.
- Try other home remedies: Baking soda paste, toothpaste, deodorant and a wet tea bag have also been shown to help with symptoms.
- Avoid rubbing alcohol: Rubbing alcohol can have unwelcome side effects, especially for children.
- Don’t scratch: As with other bites, try not to scratch because this can cause a skin infection like cellulitis. See your health care provider if the bite is red, warm, if pus is draining from the site or if you develop a fever, dizziness or muscle aches.
Signs to call 911
Allergic reactions to insect bites are rare but can be life-threatening. Call 911 immediately if you experience a severe allergic reaction.
“A true anaphylactic reaction to a sting or bite can cause severe shortness of breath, vomiting, a drop in blood pressure, swelling of the face and throat, passing out and/or swelling, as well as a rash,” Dr. Johar said. “Any of these symptoms are considered a severe reaction and must be addressed immediately.”
If you are allergic and carry an epinephrine (adrenaline) autoinjector (an Epipen) you should use it.
In the case of a black widow or brown recluse spider bite, if you are unsure what kind of spider bit you and you’re feeling sick, go to the emergency room.
You may see a bug or two on an outdoor adventure or indoor retreat, but most bugs are nothing more than a minor nuisance. Many bug bites can be treated with at-home remedies.
If you experienced an allergic reaction in the past from a bug bite, schedule a visit with your health care provider or a Banner Health specialist to pinpoint your allergy. If you do experience a serious reaction to a bug bite, call 911.