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First Aid for Insect Bites and Stings

Last updated Aug. 28, 2017

Approved by: Maulik P. Purohit MD, MPH

Insect Bites and Stings are wounds or allergic reactions caused on contact with insects.

What is Insect Bites and Stings?

Insect Bites and Stings are wounds or allergic reactions caused on contact with insects.

What are the Causes of Insect Bites and Stings?

Insect Bites and Stings occur following exposure to insects, such as bees, ants, wasps, ticks, and many other insects.

What are the Signs and Symptoms of Insect Bites and Stings?

The signs and symptoms of Insect Bites and Stings may include:

  • At the bite or sting site:
    • Burning sensation and immediate sharp pain that may be mild to severe
    • Itchiness
    • Swelling and redness of skin
    • The skin inflammation may increase in size after a few days
    • Skin rashes and hives
  • Systemic symptoms may include:
    • Nausea and vomiting
    • Difficulty breathing
    • Low pulse rate
    • Reduced blood pressure (hypotension)
  • In case of a severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis), the following may be observed:
    • Severe sweating
    • Breathing difficulties
    • Increased heart rate
    • Swollen mouth, lips, tongue, and throat, which may further lead to swallowing and speaking difficulties
    • Flushing of skin, hives
    • Collapse and unconsciousness

The severity of the symptoms depends on the type and number of insect involved. 

How is First Aid administered for Insect Bites and Stings?

First Aid tips for Insect Bites and Stings:

  • Move the individual away from the stingers/insects (or area of exposure)
  • Remove the stinger(s), if it is visible (use tweezers, if available)
  • Wash the area with soap and water
  • DO NOT use any home remedies/preparations (such as vinegar, soda, etc.) on the affected region
  • Put an icepack or ice wrapped in cloth on the affected area
  • Consider applying hydrocortisone cream to the affected areas
  • Take antihistamine drug, such as Benadryl or Tylenol, for allergic reactions
  • DO NOT take any pain medications, such as Aspirin, unless recommended by a physician
  • DO NOT use a tourniquet on affected area
  • Look out for any signs of infection
  • Call the Poison Control Center at 1-800-222-1222 (or your local poison control center) for further instructions

Call 911 (or your local emergency number) if the following are present:

  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Vomiting
  • Swelling on face
  • Confusion
  • Difficulty breathing; wheezing
  • Hives
  • Dizziness
  • Affected body part turns blue

Until emergency help arrives, the following may be considered:

  • Help the affected individual take medication for allergy reaction, such as epinephrine, if he/she is prescribed the drug and is in possession of the same
  • After injecting epinephrine, give the individual an antihistamine pill
  • Lie down the victim with legs slightly elevated than the head
  • If the victim is vomiting, turn them onto their side 
  • If the victim is not breathing or there is no movement, immediately begin CPR
  • If possible, take the insect (or parts of it) to the healthcare facility for identification

Who should administer First Aid for Insect Bites and Stings?

The individual who is affected, or someone near should administer initial first aid, following which one should seek medical help.

What is the Prognosis of Insect Bites and Stings?

  • The prognosis is dependent on the extent of Insect Bites and Stings and the severity of allergic reaction, if any
  • In most cases, the prognosis is typically good with adequate treatment

How can Insect Bites and Stings be Prevented?

Insect Bites and Stings may be prevented by:

  • Avoid being outdoors at night in forested areas
  • Use pest control in areas where insects are found in large numbers
  • Use insect repellent such as DEET
  • Wear clothes that cover the entire body while outdoors in the evenings or at nights

What are certain Crucial Steps to be followed?

  • Call 911 (or your local emergency help number), if the condition is serious
  • Administer antihistamines, if the individual has an allergic reaction

What are some Useful Resources for Additional Information?

References and Information Sources used for the Article:

Helpful Peer-Reviewed Medical Articles:

Reviewed and Approved by a member of the DoveMed Editorial Board
First uploaded: Aug. 28, 2017
Last updated: Aug. 28, 2017