Insects Bite

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Insect bites and stings can cause an immediate skin reaction. Symptoms vary depending on the type of insect involved and the sensitivity of the person who is bitten. The bite from fire ants and the sting from bees, wasps and hornets are usually painful but bites caused by mosquitoes, fleas and mites are more likely to cause itching than pain. When an insect bites, it releases a form of saliva that can lead to hypersensitivity reactions known as papular urticaria, which consists of chronic or recurrent eruptions of pruritic papules, vesicles and wheals.1

Some people have a severe allergic reaction to insect bites and stings. This life-threatening allergic reaction is known as anaphylaxis and it requires urgent emergency care. Symptoms of anaphylaxis include feeling faint or passing out, difficulty in breathing, facial swelling, swelling of the tongue, abdominal pain and shock. Anaphylaxis episodes range in severity from those that are mild and resolve spontaneously to those that are fatal within minutes.2

Children affected by insect bites and the associated hypersensitivity reactions are frequently misdiagnosed and often subject to expensive investigations and unnecessary procedures.3 Secondary bacterial infections such as impetigo, cellulitis or lymphangitis are common complications of insect bites.

First Aid

General steps of first aid for most bites and stings are the following:

  • Remove the stinger if still present by scraping with any straight-edged object across the stinger.
  • Wash the site thoroughly with soap and water.
  • Cold compresses will help relieve pain and swelling. Place ice wrapped in a cloth on the site of the sting for 10 min. Repeat this process.
  • If required, take an oral antihistamine or apply creams that reduce itching.
  • Observe for signs of infection such as increasing pain, redness or swelling, which may develop as a complication of the bites after few days.

In case of emergencies:

  • Check the person’s airway and breathing. If necessary, begin rescue breathing and CPR.
  • Remove any constricting clothes or items as the affected area may swell.
  • Seek emergency medical help immediately.

Do’s and Don’ts

  • Avoid using tweezers to remove the stinger as these may squeeze the venom sac and increase the amount of venom released.
  • Do not apply a tourniquet above the bite area.
  • Avoid giving aspirin or other pain medication unless prescribed by the doctor.
  • If attacked, place your hands and forearms across your head to protect your eyes, face and neck.


  • Avoid provoking insects whenever possible.
  • Use appropriate insect repellents and protective clothing when being outside and when traveling to areas known for insect-borne diseases.
  • Do not walk barefoot on lawns with flowering plants nearby.
  • Avoid wearing strong perfumes or cosmetics, particularly those with floral-scents, as these can attract bees and wasps.
  • For those with history of serious allergy to insect bites or stings, carry an emergency epinephrine kit.


1.Demain JG. Papular urticaria and things that bite in the night. Curr Allergy Asthma Rep. 2003; 3: 291–303.

2.Simons FE. Anaphylaxis. J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2008; 121(2 Suppl): S402–S407; quiz S420.

3.Hernandez RG, Cohen BA. Insect bite-induced hypersensitivity and the SCRATCH principles: A new approach to papular urticaria. Pediatrics. 2006 ; 118(1): e189–e196.

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Written by: healthplus24 team
Date last updated: May 03, 2015