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Intense swelling from bug bite: Skeeter Syndrome: What to Do About Allergic Reactions to Mosquito BitesBites

Treating Swelling and Allergic Reactions to Spider and Insect Bites

Written by WebMD Editorial Contributors

  • What Are Insect Stings and Spider Bites?
  • Insect and Spider Bite Symptoms
  • Allergic Reactions to Stings and Bites

A sting happens when an insect injects venom into your skin. The venom travels through the bug’s stinger. 

If you get stung, you’ll feel pain. Your skin may turn red or swell at the site of the sting. In some cases, people who are allergic to the venom can have a life-threatening reaction. Doctors call this anaphylaxis.

Among the most common stinging insects are:

  • Wasps (including hornets and yellow jackets)
  • Bees
  • Fire ants

An insect bite happens when a non-venomous bug pierces your skin and feeds on your blood. This may cause a bump (doctors call them “papules”) to form. The telltale sign is intense itching.

Examples of biting insects include:

  • Mosquitoes
  • Fleas
  • Bedbugs
  • Lice 

Ticks and some spiders also bite, but technically they are arachnids, not insects. Ticks feed on your blood, but spiders do not. Also, some spiders have venom.

You can have an allergic reaction to a bite. And bugs that carry disease pass it on through their bites. This is often the case with ticks (Lyme disease) and mosquitoes (malaria, Zika virus).

Most insect bites cause only minor irritation, with symptoms like swelling at the site of the bite or itching or burning. You might also feel numbness or tingling.

An insect bite happens when a non-venomous bug pierces your skin and feeds on your blood. A sting is what happens when an insect injects poison (venom) into your skin.

If you’ve been bitten by a venomous spider, you may notice any of the following:

  • Intense pain at the site of the wound
  • Stiffness or joint pain
  • Muscle spasms
  • Abdominal pain, nausea, or vomiting
  • Fever or chills
  • Difficulty breathing or swallowing
  • A wound that spreads or turns into a sore (tissue around the wound might also die)
  • Dizziness
  • Difficulty speaking
  • Convulsions

Insect stings and bites can cause severe allergic reactions. Doctors call this “anaphylaxis.” Rarely, a spider bite can cause an allergic reaction that doctors call “anaphylactic shock.” It can be fatal.

Call 911 if you have any of these symptoms:

  • Rapid swelling of the lips, tongue, throat, or around the eyes
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Wheezing or hoarseness
  • Severe itching, cramping, or numbness
  • Dizziness
  • A reddish rash or hives
  • Stomach cramps
  • Loss of consciousness

If you have any of these things and have epinephrine on hand, don’t hesitate to use it, even if you’re not sure your symptoms are caused by allergies. Using an auto-injector pen as a precaution won’t harm you.

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What you need to know about Skeeter Syndrome

Written by Irene Lopez

Medically Reviewed by Poonam Sachdev on April 28, 2022

  • What Is Skeeter Syndrome?
  • Causes
  • Symptoms
  • Diagnosis
  • Treatment
  • Prevention Tips
  • Conclusion
  • More

It’s common for a mosquito bite to cause a slight reaction on your skin. This reaction can worsen over the next 24 hours, but it usually gets better from then on, often clearing up within a week. 

More rarely, though, you may experience a more severe reaction called skeeter syndrome. Here’s what you need to know about this condition. 

Skeeter syndrome is diagnosed when you have a strong reaction to a mosquito bite. You may see a large area of swelling, soreness, redness, and itching or pain at the location of the bite. Such a reaction can develop within hours of the bite, and it may last for weeks. 

You may notice some redness and puffiness within a few minutes of the bite, followed by a red-brown bump showing up over the next two days. The bump is usually hard and itchy. Sometimes, you may get small blisters or small dark spots that look like an injury. 

You need to be in contact with a mosquito for at least six seconds for this type of reaction to take place.  

Skeeter syndrome is caused by the body’s reaction to polypeptides found in a female mosquito’s saliva. Polypeptides are chains of molecules called amino acids.

A female mosquito needs to feed on blood to produce eggs. Mosquitos use a mouthpart called a proboscis to pierce your skin and suck up the blood. While they suck blood, they also inject a small amount of saliva into your body because the saliva contains a substance that stops the blood from clotting. Male mosquitos don’t bite humans. 

Skeeter syndrome is rare, but some people are more likely to get it than others.

  • Babies and children, as they have lower immunity. 
  • Adults bitten by a species of mosquito they’ve not come in contact with before. Polypeptides can differ from one mosquito species to the next. A person can have Skeeter syndrome from getting bitten by one species but have no reaction to a bite from another species.
  • People who have an immune system disorder. That’s the system that protects your body from infections. 

If you’ve had several mosquito bites, you become less sensitive to the saliva, so severe types of reactions like Skeeter syndrome are not very common.   

A large area of swelling, soreness, and redness with pain or itchiness is common in a severe reaction. In addition, you may become feverish. Skeeter syndrome symptoms can also include hives, a type of skin rash. Your lymph nodes, parts of your immune system, may also get swollen. 

Your primary care physician or doctor can assess whether you have skeeter syndrome by looking at the affected area on your skin. There is no blood test to check for the syndrome, so your doctor will usually arrive at their diagnosis after finding out if a mosquito has bitten you.

Your doctor will want to know your symptoms and how long you’ve been having them before they suggest a treatment plan. They will also check your medical history and ask about medicines, vitamins, supplements, and any other form of treatments you’re taking currently.

Skeeter syndrome treatment usually involves oral antihistamines and topical steroid creams.

Oral antihistamines are a class of drugs used to treat the symptoms of allergies. They are taken through the mouth. Topical steroid creams are creams, lotions, or ointments containing steroids that help fight inflammation in the body. These are to be applied to your skin near the site of the infection. Sometimes, your doctor may ask you to take oral steroids.

Avoid scratching your bites as that can lead to an infection. 

There are several different things you can do to help prevent mosquito bites: 

Use insect repellants. Use Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-registered insect repellants. As long as you follow the product label instructions, they should be safe and work well for pregnant and breastfeeding women. You will always want to follow the instructions, though, to ensure safe application.

An EPA registration can tell you that the repellent has had its effectiveness confirmed. It can be unclear how effective natural insect repellants or non-registered ones are.

Avoid using insect repellants containing oil of lemon eucalyptus (OLE) or para-menthane-diol (PMD) on children under 3 years of age. Avoid applying insect repellent on your child’s hands, mouth, and eyes. You will also want to avoid applying it to any cuts or open infections that your child has.

Cover your body. Use long-sleeved tops and long pants to protect your body from bites. Thicker clothing can be harder for mosquitos to bite through.

Treat your wearables. Treat your clothes and even things like boots, mosquito nets, or the tents you’re sleeping in with a 0.5% solution of an insecticide called Permethrin. Permethrin can kill mosquitos on contact. You can also buy clothes that have been treated with Permethrin for when you’re traveling.

Avoid applying Permethrin directly on your skin.

Use mosquito nets and screen guards. Use mosquito nets in hotel rooms with no air conditioning or on occasions when you’re sleeping outside. Use protective screen guards for your doors and windows. Follow up with indoor pesticides if you’ve had mosquitos or use the services of a professional pest control professional.

Use air conditioning as much as possible when you’re indoors.

Manage areas that hold water. You may have water features or areas that hold water both inside and outside your home, like buckets, pools, flowerpots, birdbaths, or trash containers. Empty these containers once a week and clean and scrub them from the inside out.

Fill tree holes so they don’t get clogged with water. Also, repair cracks and holes in your septic tank if you have one. Cover open vents and plumbing pipes.

Clear out areas that are damp and humid like the inside of your closets, the space under your sinks, or your laundry room.

Skeeter syndrome is rare. Call your doctor if you suspect that you have skeeter syndrome or if your mosquito bite symptoms are getting worse. Follow best practices both indoors and outdoors to prevent mosquito bites and safeguard your health. 

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Bed bugs painlessly bite exposed skin at night and are rarely noticed by victims. Bites usually occur on the face, neck, and hands. Skin reactions to bed bug bites vary from person to person depending on their individual response. Some people do not react, and the only sign of a bite is a small dot. It has been observed that older people are less likely to experience skin reactions than younger people.

The classic appearance of a bug bite is an erythematous papule or blister 2-5 mm in size with a central hemorrhagic puncture. Itching is common.

Some patients have asymptomatic purple spots at bite sites. Bullous reactions sometimes occur. Sometimes bed bug bites can present as papular urticaria or mimic urticaria.

Skin reactions may occur on waking or one to several days after bites. Sometimes the skin reaction appears with a delay of up to 10 days.

The linear course of bites is often indicative of bedbug bites, but is not a strictly obligatory sign.

Bed bug bites usually disappear on their own within one week

Sometimes bed bug bites can become secondarily infected, causing impetigo or cellulitis, in which case see a doctor immediately. Treatment of such complications can take several weeks.

The most reliable sign of a bedbug bite is the presence of bedbugs in the victim’s environment. Most often, bedbugs live in cracks and crevices of mattresses, pillows, bed frames and other structures.

The causative agents of some diseases were found in bedbugs, such as hepatitis B virus resistant to methicillin, Staphylococcus aureus and others, however, clinical transmission of these diseases to humans has not been identified.

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Bedbug bites (chemipterosis) consultation treatment in St. Petersburg at the ID-CLINIC medical center

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Many people associate bed bugs with slovenliness and an asocial lifestyle, but unfortunately, anyone can become their victim. Small insects easily enter the apartment from the basement or a neighboring dwelling through ventilation shafts and through cracks in the walls. In addition, you can bring the insect home in the folds of your clothes, and encounter bedbugs while traveling, especially when renting private accommodation and traveling to countries with unfavorable sanitary conditions.

Peculiarities of bedbug attack

Bed bugs are blood-sucking insects, most often they attack children and women with thinner skin. Bites can be on any part of the body, but favorite areas include the face, wrists, elbows and knees.
Another distinguishing feature of bites is their linear arrangement. To get enough human blood, the bug will bite the skin several times, moving along one line. This is due to the characteristics of the jaw apparatus of the insect.

How a bug bite manifests itself

The patient develops itchy red spots on the skin, which are arranged in a single chain. The size of these spots varies from 4-5 mm to several centimeters. Most often, a person notices marks on the skin in the morning, since bedbugs are nocturnal and attack during sleep.
The redness is accompanied by intense itching, which irritates the patient and makes him comb the skin until it bleeds. After scratching, the redness at the site of the bite increases in size, and the swelling increases.

Why bed bug bites are dangerous

Bed bug bites, known in the medical literature as chemipterosis, can cause a severe allergic reaction to a poisonous substance in insect saliva. It most often occurs in young children and allergic patients. Puffiness on the skin goes beyond the bite, and there are also systemic manifestations in the form of edema of the respiratory tract, anaphylactic shock. The intensity of the reaction depends on the individual characteristics of the person and the number of bites.

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What to do if you get bitten by bedbugs

If you notice red, itchy spots on your skin that look like bites, you should consult a dermatologist or parasitologist. The doctor will determine what caused the unpleasant manifestations, and select effective methods of treatment to quickly remove itching and redness of the skin.
For patients who do not have time to visit the clinic, an online consultation service is available. In a video conversation, you can ask the doctor questions of interest and get recommendations.

How bedbug bites are treated

Symptomatic treatment is sufficient for chemipterosis. Antihistamines and cooling agents are used to relieve painful itching. If scratching to blood and ulcers appear on the skin, treatment with antiseptics and local antibiotics may be required.
In a severe form of chemipterosis, antiallergic drugs are prescribed in tablets and injections. Usually they are used in the early days for the rapid relief of allergic reactions and the prevention of complications.
The main task of the patient is to treat the dwelling from insects. Thermal treatment of bed linen and clothes (boiling, washing, ironing), chemical treatment of a bed and other furniture. In some cases, only sanitary services will help to cope with insects.

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