A picnic outdoors or a camping trip can be a lot of fun—if you do not have to worry about insect bites. Bug bites can be irritating, itchy, and sometimes painful.
It happens more during summer when the skin is exposed but can also occur during winter. Bed bugs, fleas, and spiders don’t take winter vacations, sadly. After being bitten, you will notice red lumps, either in one spot or in clusters. The main challenge is how to identify which insect bit or stung you if you did not see it happen. That’s because most insect bites look similar.
The good news is that not all insect bites are harmful, and treatment is fairly simple.
However, some people may have severe allergic reactions if they are not treated immediately. Below are some common bugs and the symptoms of their bites to help you identify which pesky insect pricked you.
Common Bug Bites and Their Symptoms
Do you have a nasty bite and you can’t tell which critter is the culprit? Take a look at the following list of common bugs and whether their symptoms match with your wound:
Wasps and Hornets
Wasps and hornets are common summer bugs. They have stingers filled with venom that is used for self-defense. This venom is later passed on to human skin when stung. Though the sting can be uncomfortable, most people recover swiftly without any complications. However, the venom from the sting can pose a serious threat to those who are allergic or have weak immune systems and may require immediate treatment.
- Sharp or burning sensation around the sting area
- Inflammation and itching
- A tiny white spot in the middle of a raised welt
In severe cases, if you’re allergic, you may develop:
- Extreme redness and swelling for two to three days
Similar to wasps and hornets, bee stings can also produce different reactions.
Mild reactions include:
- A red raised welt
For most people, the pain and burn go away in a couple of hours. Some reactions may take a week or two to recover whereas in severe cases, it may lead to anaphylaxis, nausea, vomiting, difficulty breathing, swelling of throat or tongue, and so on. If this happens, it’s best to seek medical treatment immediately instead of waiting to recover.
Fire ants are red-colored insects that don’t bite but sting. They latch on to your skin with their jaws and circle around, stinging you as they go. They are pack insects, which means they attack in a swarm, and the result is that you have stings all over. They are very aggressive, and their bites are extremely painful.
You’ll likely develop:
- A raised welt
- An itchy, burning sensation
The welt comes down the following day, but a white pustule takes the place of the red spot.
In severe and rare cases, if you’ve been stung by a fire ant on your leg, for instance, it may cause your whole leg to swell up or you may have difficulty breathing.
These pesky insects can be harmlessly annoying and life-threatening at the same time. When it bites, it sucks up blood and injects saliva into your skin.
You’ll likely develop:
- A puffy, red bump
- Redness around the area
Normally, the saliva injected can be harmless, but oftentimes it can carry diseases such as Zika virus, malaria, or dengue, which can lead to serious health issues. Scratching the bite can also cause infections.
Tick bites are usually harmless—unless, of course, you’re allergic to them. These critters love moist, warm areas, so once they get attached to your skin, they are likely to migrate to your armpits, hair, groin area, behind the knees, in and around your ears, etc. Unlike other insects, they don’t go away after they’ve bitten you. They are likely to stay in the same spot and draw blood for ten days, by which time they’ll fall off on their own.
Tick bites can sometimes cause:
- A red spot on the bitten area
- Diseases such as Lyme disease, anaplasmosis, tularemia, etc. which can be fatal
A horsefly is a large, dark fly that uses its jaw, also called the mandible, to lock in on the skin and feed.
- Swelling around the bitten area
- An area that looks like a bruise
- Sharp, burning sensation
They may, however, be fatal to animals such as horses.
Midges or Gnats
Biting midges or gnats are small insects with six legs and two prominent wings. These critters can be annoying, and their bite is quite similar to that of a mosquito.
Like mosquitoes, the female gnats feed on blood and leave symptoms like:
- Skin irritation
In case of biting midges, there’ll be noticeable pain initially.
Fleas are common wingless parasites that survive by feeding on blood from their hosts. Generally, they prefer to live on dogs and cats rather than humans, but that won’t stop them from biting you if they get a chance.
You’ll know it’s a flea bite if the bite area is:
- Extremely itchy
- A red lump that develops into a blister or a small bruise-like wound
Normally, they target the feet and legs but can bite other areas too.
Though harmless, these insect-like organisms can be annoying. Relative to the ticks, they are so small that you may not even know they’re there. Their bites can look like small, red dots, and if there are several bites together, it’ll look like a solid skin rash.
Chigger mites liquefy the skin around a bite so they can feed on it. If you’re dealing with a chigger bite, you’ll notice that the skin surrounding the bite will harden.
- Severe skin irritation
- Extreme itching
- Inflamed, hard, and itchy
These are small, reddish-brown parasitic insects that live on blood from humans and animals, usually when they are sleeping. They are the size of an apple seed and prefer to hide in the cracks and crevices of beds, headboards, bed frames, or any other objects around the bed; hence the term “bedbugs.”
These irritating critters bite when you’re asleep. Their bites are similar to other insects. The bitten area usually becomes:
- Red and often with a dark red spot in the middle
- Extremely itchy
- Clusters of the spot may be visible
- Usually in exposed areas such as face, neck, arms, and feet
Allergic reactions include:
- Severe itching
Lice can be found in body hair or on the head. They are about two to three millimeters long, and their preferred place of infestation is the hair. Their bite appearance can be bluish-gray or a small red bump. Head lice can be spread through direct contact and are especially common among pre-school and elementary school children. Though harmless, extreme itching may lead to infection.
- Itching that becomes extreme or worse at night
- You can notice tiny white eggs on hair which are called nits.
Like its name, these beetles cause blisters when they come in contact with skin. They are usually seen during the day circling flowers and are attracted to lights at night.
Blister beetles don’t have the mechanism of biting or stinging. They produce a chemical called cantharidine. When the beetle is crushed, that chemically reacts with the skin and forms a blister. However, within a few days, there’s no lasting skin damage or scarring.
- Forms blisters or welts
Around twelve percent of the forty thousand species of spiders around the world bite humans. Twelve of these species deliver venom that can be considered fatal to humans. The two most venomous spiders are the brown recluse and the black widow.
Bite Symptoms of Black Widow Spider
- Intense muscle pain
- Abdominal pain
In severe cases,
- Nausea and vomiting
- Chest pain and breathing difficulties
Bite Symptoms of Brown Recluse Spider
- Redness and swelling
- Severe pain on the bitten area
- Intense itching
- Nausea and vomiting
- Two fang-like marks on the bitten area
- Sharp, pricking sensation which later develops into numbness
In severe cases, it can lead to skin necrosis or death of the skin.
If any of the above symptoms appear, seek medical care immediately.
Ladybugs are beneficial insects that prey on other insects that destroy crops, for example. Though they do not have the mechanism to sting, if irritated, they’ll bite or pinch you with their legs.
Ladybug bites may be painful and leave you with a mark, but overall they are harmless. However, people with allergies, they may be left with a red skin welt.
Those who are allergic to ladybug bites may develop:
- Breathing difficulties
- Swelling of the lips and airways
- Pain around the bitten area
Like ladybugs, flower bugs prey on other insects like aphids and mites. They have an oval-shaped body, reflective wings, and orange-brown legs.
Flower bug bites can be extremely painful and itchy. As if that wasn’t enough, the wounded area is often slow to heal.
With their fuzzy hairs, caterpillars can look cute, and you may get the urge to pick one up and let it run along your arm. However, these “spike-like hairs” are quills connected to poisonous sacs, releasing a tiny dose of venom into your skin as it goes. This is their defense mechanism so they can’t be manhandled by a larger creature—in this case, you!
When you hear the terms “venom” and “toxin,” it is natural to worry. However, the good news is that caterpillar stings can be as mild as a mosquito bite. The venom may lead to:
- Skin rash and irritations
These symptoms disappear within a few hours or a few days. However, severe allergic reactions can include shortness of breath and difficulty swallowing if you touch your eyes or mouth after handling a caterpillar.
Home Remedies for Pesky Bites
If you have allergies, you may get severe reactions when bitten by these critters. In that case, it is best to seek medical care from a professional rather than remedying the wound yourself.
However, if you’re not allergic, you can deal with most bug bites right at home. Use the following home remedies for mild reactions:
- Take a cotton ball or a clean cloth and dip it in honey. Apply it to the wounded area. Honey has anti-microbial properties that help in numbing the pain and preventing infection from itching.
- Mix vinegar with lemon and apply it on bitten areas. Both vinegar and lemon are natural disinfectants as they have antibacterial properties.
- Mix oatmeal with water to make a paste and apply to affected areas. Keep it on for ten to fifteen minutes and wash it off. Oatmeal has healing and moisturizing properties which relieve itching and reduce swelling.
- Use aloe vera gel directly on the bite. It soothes itchiness, reduces swelling, and relieves pain.
Bites from most insects such as mosquitoes, fleas, bedbugs, and mites are not lethal but can cause skin irritation, red lumps, and itchiness. Bites or stings from bees, wasps, hornets, or fire ants can cause severe reactions, especially if you are allergic. Some spider bites need to be treated immediately as their bites can be fatal.
Below are some first aid tips that may help you relieve pain for mild reactions:
- Wash the affected area with soap and water.
- Apply a cold compress on the bite or stung area.
- Apply one percent hydrocortisone cream or baking soda paste until the wound is healed.
- Take an antihistamine to reduce itching.
Generally, some insect bites tend to heal within two to three days. However, if you are having severe allergic reactions such as dizziness, swelling of lips, eyelids or throat, nausea, vomiting, or difficulty breathing, call your local emergency number and seek medical care immediately.
Removing the Stinger
Bees, wasps, and hornet stings can be painful, but the quicker you take out the stinger, the less painful it’ll be.
- First, locate the stinger and start scraping with your fingernail to see if it will come out.
- Though tweezers and pinching the skin to take out the sting is frowned upon, the important thing is to remove the stinger as quickly as possible by any method necessary.
- You can use a card or a key to try and slide it out.
Whatever method you use, just remember to remove the stinger as quickly as you can to avoid more venom seeping into the skin.
Removing a Tick
Removing a tick is easy and can be done with fine-tipped tweezers.
- Disinfect the tweezer and then grasp the tick.
- Pull upward with slow and steady pressure. Don’t twist, shake, or jerk it out suddenly as the mouthparts of the tick may break and get lodged into your skin.
- After removal, clean the area with disinfectant soap and water.
You can get rid of the tick by placing it in a sealed plastic bag and disposing of it. When removing a tick, don’t use your fingernails or crush them with your fingers. Why? Because it will then regurgitate its stomach contents into your wound.
Dealing with Caterpillar Hairs
So you’ve met the fuzzy caterpillar and now it has hairs stuck in your arm. Here are some steps you can take to relieve the pain:
- Pulling out hairs can be tricky, and no tweezers can help you get them all out. Therefore, adhesive tape is your best friend when it comes to pulling out caterpillar hairs. Just put the sticky side of the tape on your arm or other areas where the caterpillar took a stroll. Then lift it to pull out the hairs.
- Wash the skin with disinfectant soap and water.
- Apply a cold compress or an ice pack to reduce swelling and pain.
- Take an antihistamine for severe reactions.
- Apply baking soda paste or hydrocortisone cream.
Most insect bites are not lethal, but it becomes troublesome if you don’t know what bit you and how you can get the bite treated.
“Prevention is better than cure.” If you have plans that involve staying outdoors, make sure you go prepared. Wear long-sleeved clothes and expose as little skin as possible.
Use bug sprays to keep insects at bay. Bring along rubbing alcohol, tweezers, bandages, and antihistamines when you’re traveling. And most of all, even if it is the most beautiful insect you’ve ever seen, just leave it alone and admire it from afar. It’ll make your trip more enjoyable if you don’t get sick from an insect bite.
Click here to read our past blog, How to Tell the Difference Between Termites and Flying Ants