How to treat bug bites

Reviewed by Theresa H. Care Delivery Manager & Family Nurse Practitioner

Time saver 3 min read

Spending time outdoors is good for your body, mind and soul. But, in addition to the welcomed fresh air and sunshine, there are a lot of other unwelcomed guests that come along with spending time in nature. From mosquitos and ticks to bees and wasps, bug bites and stings tend to peak with warmer temperatures. If you’re dealing with itchy bug bites and painful stings, we’re here for you. Keep reading to learn more about bug bites, how to treat bites and stings from the comfort of home and when to seek care.

Why do bug bites itch?

When a bug bites or stings, they puncture the skin. Along with the initial pain from a bite or sting, your body reacts to the saliva, toxins, enzymes or venom the bug transmits. The result? You may notice that the skin around the bite or sting site swells and turns red. You may also experience soreness or mild pain around the area. In some cases – especially with mosquito bites – the area may also feel irritated and itch. 

While these symptoms can be annoying and uncomfortable, they aren’t serious and can typically be treated without an in-person visit.  

What to put on bug bites

If you’re dealing with one or multiple itchy bug bites, it’s important to fight the urge to scratch your skin. Scratching with your fingernails can further damage the skin and cause more irritation. It can also introduce bacteria and other germs into the bite site and lead to an infection

To calm the pain and itching that often accompany bug bites, try the following steps. 

Bug bite at-home care

Clean the area – While bug bites themselves don’t commonly cause skin infections, it’s a good idea to use an antibacterial soap to gently wash the area around the bite or sting to get rid of any dirt or germs.

Use topical creams – Apply a topical antibiotic – like bacitracin – to ward off infection and promote healing and an anti-itch cream to relieve and irritation.

Take an allergy med – An oral allergy medication like Zyrtec can stop any reaction in your body and relieve symptoms.

Apply cold pack – Reduce swelling and relieve itching by applying a cold compress to the area for several minutes.

Pro tip: Make your own cold compress by placing a wet washcloth in the freezer for 10 minutes.

In cases where over-the-counter meds don’t work to quiet itching, irritation and discomfort; prescription medications can help. Prescription topical steroid creams - like triamcinolone mometasone – are stronger than OTC meds and work faster to relieve itching and irritation and promote healing.

How long do bug bites last?

When it comes to bug bites and stings and how quickly they heal, it’s important keep in mind that everyone’s body is different. Some people’s bodies are more sensitive and reactive to bites and stings than others. But for most people, following the at-home care tips above should bring relief from any redness, swelling and discomfort within a few days. 

Itching that’s commonly associated with bug bites and stings can take longer to subside. Do your best to avoid scratching and keep using a topical anti-itch cream to keep itchiness at bay.     

When to seek medical care

Some discomfort and swelling at the bite or sting site is normal. But other symptoms can be a sign of a serious allergic reaction. If you experience trouble breathing, facial swelling or difficulty swallowing, visit the nearest emergency department or call 911.

Additionally, if you experience the following symptoms it’s a good idea to seek medical advice and care.

  • Red bullseye rash
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Abdominal pain
  • Swelling, redness or pain in joints
  • Signs of infection at bite or sting site
  • Trouble breathing
  • Facial swelling
  • Difficulty swallowing

Keep your summer skin happy and healthy – Tell bites and stings to buzz off.

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