Insect Bite

Insects most often bite to protect themselves or their nests. Certain bugs, like fleas and mosquitoes, bite to feed. In some cases, the actual bite causes no pain. An itchy red welt or swelling may develop at the site of the bite. Most insect bites do not cause illness. And the itching and swelling most often go away without treatment. However, an infection can develop if the bite is scratched and the skin broken. Rarely, a person may have an allergic reaction to an insect bite.

If a stinger is visible at the bite spot, remove it as quickly as possible, as this can decrease the amount of venom that gets into your body. Scrape it out with a dull edge, such as the edge of a credit card. Try not to squeeze it. Do not try to dig it out, as you may damage the skin and also increase the chance of infection.

A person holding an ice pack or cold towel on the bug bite.

Home care

  • Your healthcare provider may prescribe over-the-counter medicines to help relieve itching and swelling. Use each medicine according to the directions on the package. If the bite becomes infected, you will need an antibiotic. This may be in pill form taken by mouth or as an ointment or cream put directly on the skin. Be sure to use them exactly as prescribed.

  • Bite symptoms usually go away on their own within a week or two.

  • To help prevent infection, avoid scratching or picking at the bite.

  • To help relieve itching and swelling, apply ice in a zip-top plastic bag wrapped in a thin towel to the bites. Do this for up to 10 minutes at a time. Avoid hot showers or baths as these tend to make itching worse.

  • An over-the-counter anti-itch medicine such as calamine lotion or an antihistamine cream may be helpful.

  • If you suspect you have insects in your home, talk to a licensed pest-control professional. He or she can inspect your home and tell you how to get rid of bugs safely.

Follow-up care

Follow up with your healthcare provider, or as advised.

Call 911

Call 911 if any of these occur:

  • Trouble breathing or swallowing

  • Wheezing

  • Feeling like your throat is closing up

  • Fainting, loss of consciousness

  • Swelling around the face or mouth

When to seek medical advice

Call your healthcare provider right away if any of these occur:

  • Fever of 100.4°F (38°C) or higher, or as directed by your healthcare provider

  • Signs of infection, such as increased swelling and pain, warmth, red streaks, or drainage from the skin

  • Signs of allergic reaction, such as hives, a spreading rash, or throat itching