A healthy living blog from Marshfield Clinic Health System

Bug bites and bee stings: Prevention and treatment

Most bug bites and bee stings don’t cause long-term harm, but there are many treatment options that can help discomfort in the form of itching, redness and minor swelling.

mom holds boy while spraying bug spray on a camping trip

Don’t let bug bites and bee stings put a damper on your outdoor fun. Insect repellent is one way to keep bugs away.

Nothing puts a damper on a picnic or camping trip like a swarm of mosquitoes or bees, but there are ways you can decrease exposure and treat reactions.

Avoid bug bites and bee stings

There are several ways to keep the bugs away without using insect repellant.

  • Wear long sleeves, pants and a hat. Tuck pants into shoes or socks.
  • Wear light or neutral colored clothing. Bright colors attract bees.
  • Skip scented soaps and perfumes.
  • Keep drinks, food and garbage cans covered.
  • Get rid of containers of standing water.
  • Avoid wooded, brushy and grassy areas.
  • Use screens and netting to keep bugs away from your patio.

Pick the best insect repellent

Use bug spray if you’re in an area you can’t avoid insects, like spending time in the woods. Treat camping gear, clothes and shoes with the insect repellant permethrin, or buy pre-treated gear.

Only buy insect repellant with active ingredients registered with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. These products aren’t expected to have harmful effects on people’s health or the environment.

Choose an insect repellent safe for your child. Use products with less than 10% DEET for kids and adults. Bug spray shouldn’t be used on babies younger than 2 months, and oil or eucalyptus-based products shouldn’t be used on kids younger than 3 years.

If you’re worried about your pets being bothered by bugs, get an insect repellant intended for animals.

Tips for using insect repellent safely:

  • Spray your hands first; then apply to your face. Avoid the eyes and mouth, and use bug spray sparingly around the ears.
  • Adults should apply bug spray to children. Don’t apply repellant to children’s hands because they’re likely to touch their eyes and mouths.
  • Don’t apply insect repellent under clothing.
  • Use only enough to cover exposed skin or clothes. Heavy application doesn’t mean better or longer protection.
  • Don’t apply bug spray to cuts, wounds or irritated skin.
  • Shower or wash skin with soap and water once you’re indoors.
  • Stop using bug spray and wash with soap and water if you have a reaction.
  • Call the local poison control center for more information, and bring the repellant with you if you see a doctor.

Bug bite and bee sting treatment

Over-the-counter products will provide relief for itching, redness and minor swelling cause by a bug bites or bee sting.

Try antihistamines that can be taken orally or applied to the skin for itch relief. Bug bite and bee sting treatments can stop the itching. Use products with ingredients like hydrocortisone, pramoxine, lidocaine, colloidal oatmeal and sodium bicarbonate.

Over-the-counter anti-inflammatories like ibuprofen, naproxen and acetaminophen may provide pain relief from bug bite or bee sting swelling and inflammation.

“Biting insects can transfer blood from other people and animals they’ve bitten to you,” said Dr. Maria Alvarez, family medicine specialist with Marshfield Clinic Health System. “That means they can infect you with the diseases their other victims have. Mosquitoes and ticks, for example, can carry infections like Lyme disease, Powassan or Zika viruses.”

Seek medical help for serious reactions

Some people have a severe allergic reaction to insect stings called anaphylaxis. Symptoms appear within seconds or minutes and may be life-threatening. Symptoms include difficulty breathing, chest tightness, sneezing, wheezing, hives, itching or swelling of the eyes, lips, or other areas of the face. You may also experience nausea, vomiting; diarrhea, sudden anxiety or dizziness. If you have life-threatening symptoms go to an emergency department immediately.

Stinging insects, such as bees, wasps, and fire ants, do not usually carry disease. But stinging insects can inject you with venom that can irritate your skin. “Insect stings can be deadly to people who are severely allergic to the insect venom. People with known allergies should carry EpiPens,” said Dr. Alvarez.

Care My Way® may be able to help prevent Lyme disease if you do have a tick bite. Download the app to get started.

Related Shine365 articles

EpiPen: Anaphylaxis treatment for an allergic reaction

Tick removal if you are bit by a tick

Pet bites or scratches: Infection symptoms you shouldn’t ignore

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