Insect Bites and Stings

What is it?

  • A sting or bite injects venom, composed of protein and other substances, into the skin.
  • Bee stings usually peak in August.
  • Fire ants, yellow jackets, hornets and wasps can sting repeatedly.
  • The most common bite is from mosquitoes.
  • Other sources of bites or stings come from spiders, ticks, chiggers and some flies such as deer flies.

Signs and Symptoms

  • A local reaction to the bite or sting of an insect is common. This reaction involves redness and swelling in the injured area that develops gradually after the sting/bite.
  • This reaction may also cause pain and/or itching in the area.
  • The severity of the reaction may vary from person to person.
    • With most people, the reaction site will be confined to the immediate area surrounding the bite.
    • Some people may have a more severe local reaction, such as swelling in the entire arm instead of only at the site of injury. Although this looks and feels scary, it is not overly concerning. These reactions are treated the same as the minor reactions.
  • Sometimes a severe life-threatening reaction, known as anaphylaxis, may occur. If you are bitten or stung by an insect that you know causes a systemic reaction, you must seek immediate treatment.


  • Apply a cool compress or ice pack to the area.
  • Take over the counter analgesics such as Tylenol or Advil per package instructions for discomfort.
  • Apply a meat tenderizer solution of 1 part meat tenderizer to 4 parts water. You may want to soak a cotton ball in this solution to apply it to the affected area for 15 – 20 minutes.
  • Apply a baking soda paste (add water to baking soda until it is the consistency of a paste) to the injured site.
  • Apply a topical steroid such as Hydrocortisone cream to the area per package instructions.
  • Topical anti-itch medication such as Calamine lotion may be helpful.
  • Oral antihistamines such as Claritin or Benadryl are available over the counter.

 When to seek Medical Care

  • Come to the Health Center or see your primary care provider if:
    • You develop a larger than usual reaction to a bite/sting.
    • If the treatments you have tried are not helping.
    • If you develop signs of infection. This develops after the first 24 hours of the bite/sting. These include increased pain, swelling, warmth to the touch, pus-like areas and red streaks.
  • Seek immediate medical attention if you develop:
    • Systemic symptoms such as generalized hives (irregular, raised red, very itchy areas).
    • Tightness in the chest and/or shortness of breath
    • Feeling the sensation of your throat closing – this sometimes causes you to have a hoarse voice or swelling of the tongue
    • Dizziness or faintness
    • Itching in the throat


If you know that you have a severe reaction to stings/bites and have been given medication such as an epinephrine pen to use in case of emergency, have that medication available to use immediately.  Be sure to have a new supply as needed; that it is not outdated and that it has been replaced after any use.

Stinging insects are most active during the summer and early fall.

  • Be aware of your surrounding area
    • Yellow jackets nest in the ground and in walls
    • Hornets and wasps nest in bushes, trees and buildings
  • Avoid wearing sandals or walking barefoot in the grass
  • When eating outside, keep food covered
  • Use garbage cans with tight fitting covers
  • Avoid sweet-smelling perfumes, hair sprays, colognes and deodorants
  • Avoid wearing bright colored clothing
  • Keep windows and doors open only with screens in good repair
  • Use insect repellents as directed.
    • Do not use repellents under your clothing
    • Wash off the repellent after you return indoors
    • Do not apply to eyes and mouth. Use sparingly around the ears. To apply to the face, apply to your hands first and rub them over your face.
    • A thin coating of the repellent is sufficient.
    • Types of repellent:
      • Repellents containing DEET (as in Deep Woods Off) is frequently recommended. This repels mosquitoes and ticks when applied to your clothes.
      • Repellents containing Permethin are also recommended for clothing, shoes, bedding and camping gear (not to be used on skin). This repellent retains its effect after repeated laundering of the articles it was used on. This repellent is thought to pose little danger for the person wearing it.