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Itching due to insect bite: Insect bites & stings – Injuries & first aid

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Insect bites: Reactions, types, and images

Insect and spider bites can cause small lacerations, swelling, skin discoloration, blisters, and other symptoms. Home treatment includes washing with mild soap and water, applying cold compresses, and raising the affected area, but some bites may need medical attention.

Insects typically inject formic acid through their bite. This can lead to blisters, inflammation, pain, itching, and irritation. The reaction depends on the type of insect and the individual’s sensitivity.

In this article, we look at the types of insects that bite, how people react, and how to manage a bite.

In the northern United States and Canada, biting insects include:

  • bedbugs
  • fleas
  • flies, such as horseflies
  • gnats
  • midges
  • mosquitoes
  • ticks

Hiking, camping, and working outdoors can all increase a person’s risk of insect bites.

In colder climates, the risk of catching diseases from insect bites is low. However, nearer the equator, temperatures are much higher. Here, insect bites can lead to malaria, sleeping sickness, dengue fever, or the Zika virus.

Insect bites typically cause a small itchy lump to develop on the skin. Sometimes, the bite itself may be visible as a tiny hole. The lump may fill with fluid. Inflammation sometimes occurs around the area around the lump.

Insect bites normally disappear within a few days without any need for medical attention.

Allergic reactions

Some people have an allergic reaction to insect bites. However, bites rarely cause a severe allergic reaction, unlike insect stings.

The following may indicate a severe allergic reaction:

  • an often blotchy rash can spread to other parts of the body
  • breathing difficulties
  • chest pain
  • cramps
  • faintness or dizziness
  • nausea
  • rapid heartbeat
  • severe swelling
  • severe itching
  • wheezing

These symptoms require immediate medical attention.

Allergic reactions to insect bites do not normally last more than a few weeks, but sometimes they can linger for months. In this case, the individual should consult a doctor.

Learn more about severe allergic reactions.


An insect bite that develops infection can lead to:

  • pus inside or around the bite
  • swollen glands
  • fever
  • a feeling of being unwell
  • flu-like symptoms.

Learn more about fly bites, and find pictures of different bites here.

Insect bites can have different effects.

Tick bites

Tick bites are not always harmful. Often a person will experience a small rash for 1-2 days.

However, ticks can transmit several diseases including:

  • Lyme disease
  • babesiosis
  • ehrlichiosis
  • tick-borne relapsing fever

These diseases can cause muscle aches, fever, and joint pain. Without treatment, Lyme disease can cause facial paralysis, nerve damage and arthritis.

Learn more about tick bites here.

Mosquitoes and midges

Bites typically cause small, itchy lumps, or papules. Blisters or weals may develop in sensitive individuals.

Mosquito bites can transfer diseases, such as malaria, Zika, dengue fever, yellow fever, and encephalitis.

Learn more about mosquito bites here.


A flea bite typically leads to small, raised lesions within minutes. People sensitive to insect bites might experience itching around the site for a week or more.

Fleas can transmit diseases such as typhus and Yersinia pestis (Y. pestis).

Learn more about flea bites here.


Horseflies can deliver a painful bite. The following symptoms might accompany a horsefly bite:

  • dizziness
  • possible itchiness of the eyes and lips
  • fatigue
  • general weakness

Horsefly bites may take a long time to heal because the insect cuts into the skin when it bites. This can increase the risk of infection.

Learn more about horsefly bites here.


Bedbug bites cause discolored itchy welts. These typically occur in clusters.

People may not experience a reaction to bedbug bites initially, and it can take up to 14 days for symptoms to appear.

In rare cases, a person may have a severe reaction to bedbug bites. A severe reaction can cause breathing difficulties, fever, and an irregular heartbeat.

Find out more about bedbugs.

Sand flies

Sand flies are small flies that occur mostly in tropical and subtropical areas. However, they can occur in the southern states of the U.S.

The bite of the sandfly can be painful and itchy. Discolored bumps and blisters may develop. Sometimes, ulceration might result. The fly can also transmit diseases, such as leishmaniasis and the Heartland virus.

Spiders are not insects, but they can and do bite. Some spider bites are dangerous to humans.

The bite of the brown recluse, for example, produces only a mild sting at the time of the bite. However, it can be very damaging, causing tissue destruction and severe pain.

Black widow spider bites

The black widow is another venomous spider common in the United States. Bites may initially cause faint swelling and discoloration. Stiffness and extreme pain may follow within hours.

Black widow bites may cause:

  • chills
  • fever
  • nausea
  • extreme abdominal pain

Learn everything you need to know about spider bites, including symptoms and pictures here.

The risk of receiving an insect bite depends on the environment.

Common sources of fleabites include pets, crowded communities with low hygiene standards, and birds’ nests. Moving into a new home that has been empty for a while can activate dormant fleas.

Bedbugs favor old properties and upholstery. They commonly occur in low-income rental properties and hotels. They live in mattresses, clothing, and so on.

Traveling and camping can also increase the risk of insect bites.

A mild and limited reaction normally passes within a few days. However, treatment can help reduce symptoms and speed up recovery.

Home remedies and OTC medication

Home remedies can soothe discomfort and reduce swelling. To treat an insect bite at home, a person can:

  • wash the area thoroughly with soap and water
  • apply a hot or cold compress to reduce swelling
  • avoid scratching the area

Taking over-the-counter antihistamines can help to lessen the swelling from allergic reactions. Applying soothing ointments and topical antiseptics can help to reduce inflammation and prevent infection.

Tick bites

Unlike other insect bites, ticks can embed themselves in a person’s skin. Remove the tick immediately to reduce the risk of an infection, such as Lyme disease.

If a rash develops around the armpit, thighs, or groin, or an individual experiences flu-like symptoms after a tick bite, seek medical attention. The doctor will probably prescribe antibiotics to prevent Lyme disease.

Prescription treatments

A more serious local allergic reaction may require prescription antihistamines or painkillers. In more severe cases of swelling, the doctor may prescribe oral steroids.

If severe reactions in the skin and more generalized symptoms occur, the doctor may refer the individual to a specialist for desensitization or treatment for an allergic reaction.

If symptoms get worse or do not improve, seek medical attention.

While the swelling and discomfort from insect bites typically resolve independently, these bites can lead to further complications.

Carrier infections

Some ticks carry diseases, such as RMSF and Lyme disease. Borrelia burgdorferi, a bacterium that some ticks carry, causes Lyme disease. The individual develops a red rash that spreads outwards.

Without treatment, Lyme disease might lead to meningitis, facial palsy, radiculopathy, and, in rare cases, encephalitis. Other risks include joint damage, leading to arthritis, and heart problems.

Different types of mosquitoes transmit different diseases, such as the West Nile virus and malaria.

Secondary infections

A secondary bacterial infection, such as cellulitis, lymphangitis, or impetigo, can result if a person scratches the bite area and breaks the skin. Antibiotics can treat these infections.

To prevent insect bites, the following steps may help:

  • using structural barriers, such as window screens or netting
  • avoiding wooded, brushy and grassy areas
  • avoiding heavily scented cosmetics and bright-colored clothing
  • covering drinks and garbage cans
  • wearing long sleeves and long pants, tucking these into shoes or socks, and wearing a hat
  • checking containers for stagnant water, as this provides a breeding ground for mosquitoes
  • using insect repellent

Many different insects can bite humans. Insect bites can cause skin discoloration and swelling and are often itchy or uncomfortable.

Some insects, such as mosquitoes and ticks, can transmit diseases such as malaria, Lyme disease, and leishmaniasis.

The symptoms of insect bites will typically resolve independently, but home remedies such as cold compresses can help reduce swelling and discomfort.

Secondary infection of insect bites is possible without treatment, and transmitted diseases can lead to severe complications.

People can reduce their risk of insect bites by covering exposed skin when in woodland or grassy areas, using insect repellants, and using screens or netting when sleeping.

Read the article in Spanish.

Local reaction to insect sting

You have been stung or bitten by an insect. Insect venom or bodily fluids cause a skin reaction at the site of the bite. The bite often causes redness, itching, and swelling. This reaction may disappear within a few hours. But it may take several days.

Common stinging insects whose stings cause reactions include wasps, bees, folded wasps, fire ants, and hornets. Common bites come from spiders, mosquitoes, fleas, or ticks. Other types of insects may be more common in different parts of the country or the world.

Insect venom causes “local” toxic reactions in any person. A local reaction means that the symptoms only affect the part of the body where you were bitten. The reaction has not spread to most of your body. Allergic reactions occur only in those who are sensitive to the poison. The severity of your reaction to an insect bite depends on the dose of the venom and how sensitive you are to it. When a rash or itchy skin appears, most people think of an allergic reaction. But bites tend to cause local symptoms that are not allergic. These symptoms may include:0003

  • Rash, redness, welts or blisters around the bite site

  • Itching, burning, stinging or pain

  • Swelling around the bite site, which may spread and cause discomfort

After 1-3 days, the site of the insect bite may become infected. So watch out for the following symptoms. Sometimes it is difficult to distinguish a local reaction to an insect bite from an early infection. Your healthcare provider may prescribe antibiotics for you.

Home care


Your doctor may prescribe medication to relieve swelling, itching, and pain. Follow your doctor’s instructions when taking these medicines.

  • Diphenhydramine is an oral antihistamine available in stores. You may take this medicine to relieve itching and swelling. The medicine may make you drowsy. So be careful when using it during the daytime, or when you go to school, work or drive. Do not take diphenhydramine if you have glaucoma or urinary problems due to an enlarged prostate. Other antihistamines may cause less sleepiness. They are best taken during the day. Ask a pharmacist for advice.

  • If you have large areas of localized swelling, you may be given oral corticosteroids such as prednisone. They will help reduce swelling and discomfort.

  • Do not apply diphenhydramine cream to the skin. In some people, this can cause a localized skin rash due to an allergy to the cream.

  • Calamine lotion or oatmeal baths sometimes help with itching.

  • Acetaminophen or ibuprofen can be used for pain unless another pain medication is prescribed. If you have chronic liver or kidney disease, talk to your doctor before taking these medicines. Also check with your doctor if you have had a stomach ulcer or gastrointestinal (GI) bleeding.

  • If you have had a serious reaction, your doctor may prescribe an epinephrine auto-injector. Epinephrine is a rescue medication that will stop an allergic reaction from getting worse. Before you leave the hospital, make sure you understand when and how to use this medicine.

General care

  • If itching is annoying, do not take hot showers or baths. Avoid exposure to direct sunlight whenever possible. Warming up the skin will increase the itching.

  • Apply an ice pack to reduce redness, swelling and itching. You can make an ice pack by putting ice cubes in a top-seal bag. Wrap the bag in a thin towel. Do not apply ice directly to the skin as this may damage the skin. Apply an ice pack for 5-10 minutes.

  • Avoid scratching affected areas to prevent skin damage or infection.

  • If oral antibiotics or corticosteroids have been prescribed, be sure to take them as directed until the end of treatment.

Advice for insect bites

  • Be aware that honey bees nest in trees. Wasps and fold-winged wasps build nests on the ground, trees, or roof eaves.

  • Do not wear perfume, cologne, sandals or bright clothes when outdoors. Don’t go barefoot. Do not spank flying insects. Be careful when eating outside. Close food and drinks.

  • If you are stung by a bee, the sting may remain in your skin. Wasps, fold-winged wasps and hornets do not leave stingers behind. Move away from the nest immediately. The sting of a honey bee releases a substance that will attract other bees to you. As soon as you move away from the nest, remove the stinger as quickly as possible. One suggested method is to pick up the sting with a thin, blunt edge. It could be the edge of a credit card or the dull side of a thin table knife. Do not pinch the stinger with your fingers or tweezers. This releases more poison into the skin.

  • Ice may be applied after the bite and diphenhydramine or another antihistamine may be taken. If you experience any of the danger symptoms listed below, get help right away.

  • If you feel dizzy, faint, or have trouble breathing or swallowing, ask your doctor if you need epinephrine autoinjectors.


If your symptoms persist, contact your healthcare provider after 2 days or as directed. You may be referred to an allergist for further evaluation and treatment.

Call 911

Use an epinephrine auto-injector if you have one and call 911 immediately in the following cases:

  • Problems with swallowing and difficulty or wheezing

  • New or worsening swelling in the mouth, throat, face or tongue

  • Hoarse voice, tightness in throat or speech problems

  • Confusion

  • Extreme sleepiness or trouble waking up

  • Fainting, dizziness or loss of consciousness

  • Rapid pulse

  • low blood pressure,

  • Feeling of approaching death

  • Nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain or diarrhea

  • Vomiting blood or large amounts of blood in the stool

  • Convulsions

When to seek medical help

Call a doctor immediately or seek medical attention in the following cases:

  • Spreading itching, redness or swelling

  • New or worse swelling of the face, eyelids or lips

  • weakness or dizziness,

Also call your doctor immediately if you have signs of infection:

  • Increasing pain, redness or swelling

  • Temperature 38°C (100. 4°F) or higher, or as directed by a physician

  • Discharge of fluid or pus from the area of ​​the bite

© 2000-2022 The StayWell Company, LLC. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional’s instructions.

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The best remedies for itching after bites of mosquitoes and other insects – July 6, 2021

Mosquitoes are guided by body temperature – therefore, people with superficially located capillaries become their favorites 2 Insect bites summer is a common thing, especially if you spend the weekend outside the city. At the same time, they cause a lot of discomfort, and sometimes they can be really dangerous – even if we are talking about ordinary bees and mosquitoes. In the regular column “What hurts you?” today we are figuring out together with doctors how the bites of different insects differ, why you can’t scratch them and how to relieve itching after a bite.

It is possible to divide insects (by adding some arthropods to them) into two groups: stinging and blood-sucking (there will still be moths and butterflies that do not sting or bite). The first group includes bees, bumblebees, hornets, ants, the second group includes mosquitoes, fleas, horseflies, ticks, bedbugs, lice. Since stinging insects attack for self-defense, and blood-sucking ones for food, their mechanisms are different – when stinging, a person interacts with poison, and when bitten, with saliva, which contains histamine-like substances. They help slow down blood clotting and, irritating the epithelial cells, provoke a local allergic reaction, swelling appears, which can subsequently be accompanied by itching.

— Allergic reactions can be either local or systemic. Most often, these are skin rashes, which are very diverse: papular, hemorrhagic, urticarial (in the form of blisters), says Ekaterina Skvortsova, general practitioner, therapist at the Medsi clinic. – Depending on the type of insect, there are features: for example, when bitten by midges, it acquires the character of erysipelas, redness, swelling without temperature. When bitten by a mosquito – itchy nodular rash.

The first thing to remember is that you must not scratch the bite. And this rule is not taken from the ceiling: the fact is that when combing, pathogenic microflora can get there and then suppuration joins. By the way, for the same reason, you can not apply grass to the bite site, even plantain.

— It is necessary to treat the bite site with disinfectants: rinse with running water with baby or laundry soap, you can use slightly salted water. If there are disinfectant solutions on hand, such as furacilin solution, treat them. You can use alcohol-containing medicinal tinctures, diluted with water one to one, advises Dr. Skvortsova.

To relieve discomfort, you can apply an ice cube or just something cold to the bite site – this soothes and relieves swelling. To get rid of itching and redness after mosquito bites, you can use pharmaceutical products – creams and ointments based on antihistamines (for example, Fenistil-gel, Fenidin, Dimestin, Dimetinden-Akrikhin).

– If you see that redness has begun to appear not even at the site of the bite, then the antihistamine will need to be taken orally. Severe allergies to non-stinging insects rarely occur, but it can happen – for example, such a reaction can occur to a horsefly bite, – says Ivan Skorokhodov, an allergist-immunologist at the UMMC-Health Medical Center.

All other folk ways to relieve itching and swelling doctor rejects. For example, he does not recommend using the Zvezdochka balm for this – it has a local irritating effect, this will lead to even greater vasodilation and increased edema.

Doctors call this not a bite, but a sting. Stinging insects are dangerous in that a severe systemic allergic reaction can develop from their poison – up to anaphylactic shock. It can manifest itself in the first three hours, so it is important at this time to observe the state of the stung. The reason for calling an ambulance may be difficult or wheezing breathing, speech problems, choking, too much (more than 5 cm in diameter) swelling from a bite in the face or tongue, red spots or hives outside the bite site, nausea, abdominal pain, diarrhea , vomiting, rapid pulse, anxiety, dizziness, severe weakness; the condition is deteriorating rapidly. If an insect has stung from the inside of the throat (this happens if you swallow a bee or wasp, for example, with a drink), a child under five years of age has suffered, or the stung person has severe chronic diseases, an ambulance should be called immediately. Ekaterina Skvortsova says that if the previous time there was already an acute allergic reaction to a bee sting, it will get worse with each subsequent time.