Insect bites and stings may inject venom or other substances into skin that result in a variety of symptoms. Severe reactions include:
- Hives, nausea, cramps, vomiting, or a rapid heartbeat,
- Involuntary muscle movement
- Swelling of the lips or throat, difficulty breathing, dizziness, faintness, and confusion
- Anaphylactic Shock
If any of these symptoms are present, call 911 or emergency medical assistance immediately. Typical reactions are mild and include local itching, stinging, and swelling. These symptoms typically subside within 48 hours.
First aid for insect bites begins with
- Removing any insect parts from the site and cleaning the area with soap and water.
- Use ice to reduce pain and control swelling.
- Apply hydrocortisone cream or calamine lotion to the bite or sting several times daily and take an antihistamine as needed to reduce swelling and prevent allergic reactions until symptoms subside.
In some cases, delayed symptoms such as hives, fever, swollen glands, and joint pain may occur. A person experiencing these symptoms should seek medical attention from their health care provider.
When bees or wasps sting a person, they inject venom through their stinger into the skin. About 3% of people stung by bees and wasps can have an allergic reaction to the sting, and just under 0.8% can experience a life-threatening allergic reaction known as anaphylaxis.
The normal reaction to a bee or wasp sting is reddened and painful skin that itches and swells, but the pain usually goes away in a few hours. A large local reaction to a sting consists of swelling, redness, and pain that might persist for as much as a week. Large local reactions often affect areas surrounding the site of the sting, but do not appear all over the body.
In a systemic allergic reaction to a bee or wasp sting, the entire body is affected. The victim often develops hives which consist of redness and swelling at sites on the body that are distant from the site of the sting. Symptoms can include: vomiting, dizziness, diarrhea, wheezing or difficulty breathing and nausea. If you are stung by a bee:
- Call emergency medical services immediately if you have a history of severe reactions to insect stings or if you experience any systemic allergic reaction symptoms.
- Determine if the stinger is still present by looking for a small black dot at the sting site, and remove it immediately if it is visible in the wound. When removing the stinger, use an accessible object that is hard and flat, such as a credit card or tweezers.
- Clean the area with soap and water, and apply hydrocortisone cream to the site. Alternative treatments, such as a paste made of baking soda and water, can be applied if hydrocortisone cream is not readily available. Ice or cold packs can be used to reduce the body’s inflammatory response, and taking an antihistamine such as Benadryl, has also been reported to be beneficial.