Bug Bites
Symptoms, Causes, Related Conditions, Questions & Related Topics

Bug Bites May Also be Known as:

  • Insect bites
  • Insect stings



About Bug Bites

Biting insects including mosquitos, ticks, and spiders, and stinging insects include bees, wasps, and fire ants. Insect bites and stings are a common occurrence in the U.S., especially during the summertime as insects thrive in warmer climates and more people spend time outdoors during the summer months. During the summer while you’re hiking, camping, or doing some other outdoor activity, it’s important to wear insect repellant to limit your exposure to insect bites and stings. Some insects are also attracted to bright colors and scents from perfumes, deodorants, and lotions, so to avoid bites and stings, it might also be helpful to wear dark clothing and remain free of sweet-smelling odors.

Thankfully, unless you’re allergic to the venom, insect bites and stings usually cause mild reactions. Symptoms include an itching or stinging sensation, mild swelling, and redness, and usually last between 24 to 48 hours. However, some people are severely allergic to insect bites and stings. This type of allergic reaction is referred to as anaphylaxis, and requires immediate medical attention, as it can be life-threatening if it’s not treated promptly.

Possible Symptoms of Bug Bites

Symptoms of bug bites can include:[1]

  • Itching
  • Pain
  • Numbness
  • Stinging
  • Swelling
  • Redness and rash
  • Blisters

Symptoms of potentially serious bug bite complications may include:[2,9,11]

  • A high fever
  • A severe headache
  • Joint pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Vomiting
  • Weakness or paralysis

Seek medical care immediately if you develop any of these symptoms.

Top 5 Causes of Bug Bites

1. Mosquitos

A mosquito uses its mouthparts to puncture a host’s skin and feed off the host’s blood. Their saliva leaves behind an itchy rash at the area of the bite.[2] Mosquito bites are often red, round, and firm. You may have several mosquito bites or just one.

These insects thrive in warm weather and are most active during the spring and summer. They lay their eggs in stagnant water, like that found in ponds, lakes, or swimming pools.[3] Mosquitos can sometimes spread diseases, including malaria and West Nile Fever.[2] Most mosquito-borne diseases are uncommon in the United States, but you should notify your doctor if you develop a fever or other new symptoms after a mosquito bite.

2. Fleas

Fleas are especially common in homes with pets. Animals like cats and dogs can catch fleas and spread them to their owners.[4] Fleas feed off the blood of humans and other animals, and their bites are often very itchy. Flea bites resemble small red dots, and they often occur in clusters on the feet or lower legs.[4]

If your animal has fleas, you might need to see a veterinarian for advice on how to treat them. Your pet might need to take oral medication, or you might need to wash them with a special shampoo.[5]

Fleas can quickly spread throughout your entire home. You might need to consult with a pest-control expert to get rid of fleas.

3. Bedbugs

Bedbugs are another type of parasite that feeds on human blood. Unlike mosquitoes and fleas, bedbugs do not spread disease.[6] Bedbug bites are often itchy, red, and swollen, and they might appear in a cluster. They often show up on areas of the skin not covered by clothing or blankets, such the face, arms, or lower legs.[6]

Bedbugs are nocturnal and tend to bite their hosts at night. They can be transmitted by infested clothing, blankets, used furniture, or luggage.[6] You might be more likely to pick up bedbugs if you often stay in hotels, dorms, or military barracks.

4. Lice

Head lice are more common among children but can affect adults as well. Lice live on the human scalp and feed off of human blood. When lice bite, their saliva causes an allergic reaction, which results in itching.[7]

Head lice are usually transmitted through close contact, such as hugging or sharing a bed. They can also spread through shared objects such as hairbrushes or hats.[7] You are more likely to catch lice if you have school-aged children. Teachers, coaches, and other adults who work with children can also catch lice.

5. Ticks

Ticks are another parasitic insect that feeds off human and animal blood. They are most active in grassy or wooded areas in the spring and summer months.[8] Ticks can be carried by animals, including cats and dogs.

Ticks often bite around the neck, scalp, and legs. Sometimes they also bite around the armpits and groin.[8] Their bites are not always itchy, but ticks can spread illnesses such as Lyme disease.[9] If you are bitten by a tick, write down when and where it happened and keep a list of any symptoms. If you become sick from a tick bite, this information can help your doctor diagnose your illness.

4 Ways to Prevent Bug Bites

1. Use Insect Repellant

Insect repellant is an effective way of preventing mosquito, flea, and tick bites. Insect repellents are available for purchase at drug stores and pharmacies. They are typically applied directly to the skin. Some insect repellants can also be applied to clothing, bedding, or other items that might come into contact with insects. Talk to your pediatrician before using insect repellant on children under the age of 3.[2]

2. Check Your Pets

If you have a dog or cat, examine them regularly for fleas and ticks. Your veterinarian might recommend a special medicine to help prevent your pet from picking up parasites. Use this medication as directed and do not skip any doses.[5]

3. Check Your Children’s Hair

If you have school-aged children, check their hair regularly for signs of lice. Your pediatrician or school nurse can provide the best procedure. To prevent the spread of lice, teach your children not to share items like hats, hair brushes, and hair accessories.[7]

4. Cover Up Exposed Skin

When spending time outside, avoid tick bites by wearing long-sleeved shirts or long pants. Tuck in your shirt and pants. Avoid thin clothing, as some insects can bite through the fabric.[10] If you live in an area where ticks are prevalent, always examine yourself, your children, and your pets after spending time outside.

Possible Bug Bite Treatment Options

If a bug bites you, clean the affected area with a mild soap. Minor bug bites can often be treated with over-the-counter medications. Oral antihistamines and anti-itch creams containing hydrocortisone can help provide relief from itching.[11] Try to avoid scratching, as this can sometimes cause infection.

If your bites don’t go away or become worse, see your doctor. If you have a tick bite, it’s essential to monitor the area around the bite. Notify your doctor if you develop a rash or if the area becomes very swollen.[9]

If you have fleas or bedbugs in your home, you might need to hire a pest-control service to get rid of them.

You can usually treat lice with over-the-counter shampoos and hair treatments.[7] Ask your doctor or pharmacist for help in choosing the right product. Be sure to follow all directions on the package.

Questions Your Doctor May Ask About Bug Bites

  • Where do you live?
  • Do you have any pets?
  • Do you know what bug or insect might have bitten you?
  • Are others in your home experiencing similar symptoms?
  • When did you first notice your bug bites?
  • What other symptoms are you experiencing?
  • Are you experiencing severe itching or pain?

Sources

  1. Healthline. Bug Bites. https://www.healthline.com/health/bug-bites
  2. Mayo Clinic. Mosquito bites. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/mosquito-bites/symptoms-causes/syc-20375310
  3. Center for Disease Control. Zika, Mosquitoes, and Standing Water. https://blogs.cdc.gov/publichealthmatters/2016/03/zikaandwater/
  4. Healthline. Flea Bites. https://www.healthline.com/health/flea-bites
  5. WebMD. Protect Your Cat and Home From Fleas. https://pets.webmd.com/cats/guide/flea-prevention#1
  6. Mayo Clinic. Bedbugs. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/bedbugs/symptoms-causes/syc-20370001
  7. Mayo Clinic. Head lice. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/head-lice/symptoms-causes/syc-20356180
  8. Healthline. Tick Bites. https://www.healthline.com/health/tick-bites
  9. Center for Disease Control. Symptoms of Tickborne Illness. https://www.cdc.gov/ticks/symptoms.html
  10. Center for Disease Control. Preventing tick bites. https://www.cdc.gov/ticks/avoid/on_people.html
  11. WebMd. Insect Bites and Stings (Children). https://www.webmd.com/first-aid/insect-bites-and-and-stings-children

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