Bruce P.Robinson, MD

All About Bug Bites

"OUCH! What Bit Me?"

Sometimes it’s easy to tell what bit you: maybe you reach down to swat at the bug and catch a glimpse of it. Sometimes though, it’s harder to tell. You might not notice the bite as it’s happening. Instead you don’t even realize you’ve been bitten until the spot starts to itch.

Although most bug bites and stings are harmless, some can be dangerous. This is especially true if you are allergic to the bug’s venom, or if the bug is carrying a disease. Most bug bites and stings can be safely treated at home with topical medication. However, sometimes a bug bite or sting could turn into something serious – particularly if you have been bitten or stung by many insects at the same time.

In the United States, it’s common to experience a bite or sting from the following types of bugs:

  • Mosquitoes
  • Fleas
  • Bedbugs
  • Biting flies
  • Scabies Mites
  • Bees, wasps, and hornets
  • Spiders
  • Ticks
  • Fire ants


When weather permits, wear long sleeves and pants. They can add an extra layer of protection between you and your exposed skin. Light-colored clothing makes ticks easier to spot. Do a quick clothing and body check for ticks once you get inside.

Remember, insect repellants are your friend. The best ones contain DEET, like DEEP Woods OFF or ones that contain picaridin. Be sure to use any insect repellants according to the directions on the label.

How do you treat summer bug bites?

For insect bites and stings that itch, you can put an ice pack on the spot and/or use an over-the-counter itch cream; for example, hydrocortisone. You may choose to instead take an oral antihistamine. Ice packs can also reduce swelling.

It’s important to pay attention to your symptoms. If you feel tired all the time, you have a headache, fever or body aches, or you develop a rash after a bug bite, see a board-certified dermatologist immediately.

Go to the emergency room immediately if you experience any of the following symptoms after a bug bite or sting:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • The sensation that your throat is closing
  • Swollen lips, tongue, or face
  • Chest pain
  • A racing heartbeat that lasts more than a few minutes
  • Dizziness
  • Vomiting
  • A headache
  • A red, donut-shaped rash that develops after a tick bite. This could be a sign of Lyme disease, which should be treated with antibiotics.
  • A fever with a red or black, spotty rash that spreads. This could be a sign of Rocky Mountain spotted fever, a bacterial infection carried by ticks, which should be treated immediately.
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