How to Treat Bug Bites – Effective Remedies for Relief

Most insect bites and stings are nothing to worry much about. You can treat them at home. They often cause itching, swelling, and stinging that will go away in a day or two.1 But, some can carry harmful stuff like bacteria, viruses, or parasites.2 If you get stung or bitten by certain bugs like bees, yellow jackets, wasps, hornets, or fire ants, you might have a bad allergic reaction (anaphylaxis).1

If you’re really sick after a bug bite, don’t wait. Get help fast. Symptoms such as, hives, trouble breathing, nausea or vomiting, dizziness, or swelling around the face are bad signs.1 These can mean a life-threatening allergic response is happening, which is very serious.3 It’s always safer to seek medical help quickly.

Key Takeaways

  • Insect bites and stings can cause mild symptoms like itching, swelling, and stinging that typically resolve within a day or two.
  • Severe allergic reactions to insect stings can lead to serious symptoms like trouble breathing and swelling, requiring emergency medical attention.
  • Common treatments for mild bug bite reactions include washing the area, applying cold compresses, and using over-the-counter medications.
  • Seeking medical care is advised if symptoms worsen, signs of infection develop, or you experience a severe reaction after an insect bite or sting.
  • Visiting a walk-in clinic is recommended if you have a bug bite that requires professional medical treatment.

Understanding Bug Bites

Bug bites happen more in summer but can occur anytime, even indoors.4

Types of Insects That Bite

Insects that bite are mosquitoes, ticks, fleas, bed bugs, and spiders.4 Mosquitoes spread viruses such as Zika and West Nile.5 Ticks can give diseases like Lyme and Rocky Mountain spotted fever.5

Symptoms of Bug Bites

Bug bites can make the skin itch, swell, become red, and hurt.4 Some people might get hives, have trouble breathing, or feel dizzy too.4

Bed bugs, known for surviving long periods without food, leave itchy, red, and swollen rashes.4 These rashes often have dark red centers and show up in lines or clusters on the body.4

Chiggers leave itchy bites, especially in skin folds.5 Fleas leave red bumps grouped on the lower legs and feet.5 Fire ants bite with swollen, itchy bumps that might have fluid inside.5

Some people have strong allergic reactions to insect bites. This can cause trouble breathing, vomiting, low blood pressure, face and throat swelling, fainting, and a rash.5

When to Seek Emergency Help

Knowing when to seek help for bug bites or stings is key.1 Insects like bees, yellow jackets, wasps, hornets, and fire ants can lead to serious allergic reactions.1 If you or someone else shows signs like breathing issues, lip or throat swelling, or dizziness, call for help right away.1 Immediate action is crucial, as these symptoms can point to a severe allergic reaction.

Signs of Anaphylaxis

1 Always check if the affected person has an epinephrine autoinjector. Follow correct administration steps in a severe allergy situation. Being prepared and acting fast can save lives during an anaphylaxis episode.

Immediate Actions to Take

While waiting for emergency help, start with actions to help the person. Loosen tight clothes and cover them with a blanket.1 Refrain from giving the person anything to drink. This action can avoid making their state worse.

signs of anaphylaxis

Home Remedies for Mild Bug Bites

For a mild bug bite or sting, there are simple remedies that work at home1. Use a cold compress for 10-20 minutes to lower pain and swelling1. Mixing baking soda with water creates a paste. This paste can be placed on the bite6. Calamine lotion eases the itch1. You can also take an over-the-counter antihistamine. Medicines like cetirizine, fexofenadine, or loratadine decrease itchiness6. These steps can make you feel better without seeing a doctor7.

Cold Compress

Using a cold compress or ice pack on the bite for 10-20 minutes helps with pain and swelling1. It’s a quick method for relief.

Baking Soda Paste

A paste of baking soda and water soothes itching when applied to the bite6. Baking soda calms the skin down.

Calamine Lotion

Calamine lotion is well-known for reducing itch and irritation from bug bites1. It cools and calms the skin effectively.


Over-the-counter antihistamines like cetirizine, fexofenadine, or loratadine can decrease bug bite itching6. They work by stopping the itch signals.

How to Treat Bug Bites?

The first thing to do with a bug bite is to remove the stinger. You can do this by gently scraping it out. Use a credit card’s edge or a knife carefully.1 Doing this stops more irritation and lowers infection risk. Then, clean the area with soap and water to keep it from getting infected.1

Removing Stingers

If you see a stinger, take it out gently. Scrape it off with a credit card or knife’s edge.1 Don’t squeeze it. Pressing it can make things worse.

Cleaning the Area

After getting the stinger out, wash the spot with soap and water.1 This takes away leftover venom and dirt to fight infection. Then, dry it gently with a clean cloth.

Applying Remedies

Now, treat the bite to soothe swelling and itching. You can use a cold pack, a paste of baking soda, calamine lotion, or an antihistamine.1 These can make you feel better and help it heal.

Treating bug bites

These steps can ease bug bite symptoms and stop them from getting worse.134 If the bite looks infected or you have a bad reaction, see a doctor.

See also  How to Remove a Tick Safely and Effectively

Natural Bug Repellents

Looking for a natural way to keep bugs away? Essential oils are a great option. Peppermint, lavender, and citronella are famous for keeping mosquitoes and bugs away. Planting these oils around your outdoor area can also reduce the bug bites you get.8

Essential Oils

Studies have proven the power of essential oils in repelling bugs. In a 2014 experiment, a mix with 32 percent lemon eucalyptus oil gave over 95 percent protection from mosquitoes for 3 hours.8 Lavender oil can also keep adult mosquitoes away, confirmed by animal studies.8 Oils like cinnamon in a 1 percent solution were also tested successfully. Thyme oil on hairless mice kept away malarial mosquitoes in 2002, with a 91 percent success rate. 8

Greek catmint, tea tree, and geraniol oils have shown they work against insects too.8 Products containing soybean oil, like Bite Block Kids, offer lasting protection against mosquitoes. This was discovered by the University of Florida.8

Bug-Repellent Plants

Placing specific plants around your outside area can also discourage bugs. Rosemary, basil, and lemon balm are top choices for bug-repelling plants.8 Using citronella candles can add 50 percent more protection against mosquitoes outdoors.8

By using these natural bug repellents, you can lower the risk of bug bites without using strong chemicals.89

Tick Bites and Lyme Disease

Ticks are found all over the United States, especially in natural places such as grass and bushes.10 After a tick bites, it can stay on your skin for up to two weeks.10 Lyme disease is a serious sickness that may cause a rash shaped like a bullseye around the bite area. This rash might appear 3 to 30 days after the bite and can grow up to 12 inches wide.10 If you’re worried about a tick bite, see a skin doctor right away to test for diseases like Lyme.

Identifying Tick Bites

The stage of a tick that can pass on Lyme disease is as small as a poppy seed.11 In America, black-legged ticks carrying Lyme disease are most common in the northeast, mid-Atlantic, and midwest. They are rare in the west.11 If a tick bites you, take it off very carefully with tweezers and keep it in a sealed bag. This will help the doctor know what kind of tick it was and check if you need any special treatment.

Removing Ticks Properly

Always take out ticks with care. Use tweezers to grab it as close to the skin as you can. Then, pull it straight out with a firm, even force.10 Ticks that cause Lyme disease don’t right away feed on your blood. They wait about 24 hours to start and need about 36 to 48 hours to pass on the disease.11 So, if you find a tick, don’t panic. Just make sure it hasn’t been on you that long and be extra careful while removing it.

Seeking Medical Attention

If you think you’ve been bitten by a tick, don’t wait to see a doctor. Early care is key in stopping the spread of Lyme disease and other tick problems.10 The risk of getting Lyme disease from a tick is low if it hasn’t fed on you for more than 36 hours. But, the chances go up if it has fed for more than 72 hours.11 Doctors might give you medicine to stop Lyme disease from starting if you meet certain conditions and take it soon after the bite.11 It’s very important to see a doctor right away after a tick bite, especially in places where tick diseases are common. Differenent areas have different risks, so advice may vary.10

Infected Bug Bites

Getting bit by an insect can be simple, but sometimes it’s not. You need to see a doctor if the bite area becomes tender, red, and hot or if you’re worried about an infection.12 Usually, the doctor won’t give you medicine for a regular insect bite. But, if it looks like it’s getting infected, that’s different. When you scratch and break the skin, harmful germs can get in. If you then see the skin turning red, swollen, and you feel feverish, a quick visit to the doctor is a must. This is to make sure it’s not something more serious.12

Signs of Infection

If you start feeling chills or your fever is over 100°F (37.7°C) from a bug bite, you might have a serious problem.12 Every year, about 14.5 million Americans get cellulitis, a skin infection. Lyme disease is the most common insect-carried disease in the U.S.13

Treating Infected Bites

For a serious situation like an infected bite, you may need antibiotics or other medicines. A doctor will have to give these to you.12 Only 2% of people have bad reactions to bug bites or stings. For them, more than just the bite area is affected.13

Persistent Itching and Swelling

If bug bites are causing lots of itching or swelling, it’s wise to get help. Maybe simple home cures will work, but sometimes, you’ll need a doctor’s help. A dermatologist might give you a medicine to make it better.14

Over-the-Counter Remedies

For itchy bug bites, over-the-counter medicines can be a big help. They’re called antihistamines. Things like cetirizine, fexofenadine, or loratadine stop the itch by calming down your skin’s reaction.1

See also  How to Remove a Tick Safely and Effectively

Prescription Treatments

But if the bug bite is really causing trouble, even the store-bought stuff might not be enough. In this case, you might need a stronger medicine. This could be a topical steroid cream. It’s something a doctor would prescribe for you.14

If your bug bite keeps itching or swelling, and home fixes don’t work, see a skin doctor. They’ll figure out how bad it is and help you get something to stop the itch.2114

Bug Bite Prevention

To avoid bug bites, use an insect repellent with DEET when outside.15 The EPA suggests repellents with DEET, Picaridin, IR3535, OLE, PMD, and 2-undecanone.15 They guard against insects that spread diseases, like mosquitos and ticks.15 Make sure to put the repellent on correctly and wash it off when you’re done with your outdoor fun for the day.

Using Insect Repellents

If you like natural options, essential oils such as peppermint and citronella work well.15 Clothing treated with permethrin also helps keep bugs away.15 For indoor safety, use A/C, window screens, and mosquito nets recommended by the CDC, especially in hotels.15

Avoiding High-Risk Areas

Avoiding bug-heavy places is another bug bite preventer.15 Adventures like hiking or camping in wooded areas heighten the risk of bug bites.15 For protection against ticks, treat your clothes with permethrin and use EPA insect repellents. Avoid tall grass and woods where ticks like to hang out.15 A quick shower within two hours of being outdoors can also cut down on tick disease risks.15

Combining good insect repellents with smart choices of where to go outdoors can greatly lessen the bites you get.

When to Visit a Walk-In Clinic

Bug bites can be annoying but sometimes, it’s better to be safe.16 If a bite looks serious or seems infected, going to a walk-in clinic is a good idea. They offer treatment the same day.16 At these clinics, the bite’s seriousness will be checked. Then, they’ll give the right medical care if needed.16

Urgent care centers serve those with less severe bug bite issues.16 Mass General Brigham Virtual Urgent Care is one place that helps with bug bites. You can send them photos to evaluate.16 Places like Velocity Urgent Care can also help. They check the bites and give medicine for pain, itch, and swelling.17 Velocity Urgent Care is available in 14 spots in Virginia. They work with a lot of local insurance companies,17 and they take Medicare, Medicaid, and Tricare. This makes their services open to many patients.17

Many go to the ER or urgent care for insect bites each year.16 Sadly, about 100 people die each year from severe reactions to bug bites.16 Bites can also cause severe allergies or infections sometimes.16 ERs use medicines like antihistamines for bad reactions.16 For infected bites, they address symptoms like fever or pus.16

Doctors may suggest what to do next with bug bites.16 If you’re worried, it’s smart to have the bite checked at a clinic. This step can help avoid any serious issues.16

Scorpion Bites and Stings

Scorpion stings are often painful, but they rarely cause death. Yet, very young kids and older adults are at risk of serious harm.18 Worldwide, out of 2,000 scorpion types, only 100 have deadly venom. This venom affects the nervous system.18

Scorpions are mostly found in the U.S. desert Southwest, like Arizona and New Mexico.18 The bark scorpion has venom strong enough to be dangerous.19 About 85% of its stings cause mild issues, but 5% lead to severe symptoms.19

In the U.S., very few people die from scorpion stings. The risk is higher for the elderly and children.18 Scorpions are most active at night, making nighttime stings more likely.19 Severe complications, such as organ failure, can still happen even without death.19

Scorpion stings might very rarely cause serious allergic reactions.18 To reduce the risk, keep your living space clear of scorpion hiding spots. Also, be careful when in areas where scorpions are common.18 Those living in states like Arizona and California face more risk.19

Immediate medical help is vital for scorpion stings, especially if symptoms get worse.18 While scorpion stings are seldom deadly, prompt medical attention is crucial for a full recovery, especially for the young and the old.19 Symptoms can show up 2–3 hours after the sting.19

Bee and Wasp Stings

Bees, yellow jackets, wasps, hornets, and fire ants can sting and cause a bad allergic reaction.1 Signs of a serious reaction include trouble breathing, swollen lips or throat, dizziness, or fast heartbeats. If someone, especially a kid, gets stung and these symptoms show up, call 911 right away.1

Removing Stingers

If stung but with a minor reaction, start by getting the stinger out carefully. Use a credit card edge or a knife to scrape it off.1

Treating Swelling and Pain

Next, clean the sting spot and put a cold pack on it for 10 to 20 minutes. This helps with pain and swelling.1 Pain relievers from the store can also make you feel better.1 Putting calamine, baking soda paste, or hydrocortisone on it can help too.1 See a doctor if the swelling gets worse, the sting spot looks infected, or you feel sick.1

See also  How to Remove a Tick Safely and Effectively

Fire Ant Bites

Fire ant bites can hurt a lot and make your skin red and itchy.20

They came to the U.S. from Brazil in the 1930s and don’t like when you get near their homes.20 They eat proteins, honeydew, seeds, and most things you’d find in your kitchen.20

You’ll see red bumps right after getting bitten. These then turn into tiny blisters if you’re sensitive.20 The bumps usually go away in an hour, but you might get blisters up to four hours later.20

If you’re very sensitive, the area might swell.20 In some rare cases, you could have really bad symptoms like vomiting. This could be a sign of a serious allergy.20 Without treatment, some people could die because of these ant stings.20

Pets can also get red bumps from these fire ants.20 If you get bitten, put a cold cloth on it and use some cream to reduce pain and swelling.21

If it gets infected, you might need antibiotics.21 Call the doctor if it looks bad or you feel very sick from the bite.21

North America has two main types of fire ants, the black and the red.22 They are in the south and in Puerto Rico.22

Your reaction to a fire ant bite might be a small bump, a big swollen spot, or even a bad allergic reaction.22 If you think you’re having a bad reaction, call for help right away.22


While bug bites can be common and annoying, they are not untreatable.23 It’s crucial to know what bugs cause the bites, their symptoms, and when to get medical help fast.23 You may find relief in home remedies and natural repellents. But, always consult a pro as needed.24 Being smart and cautious with bug-related health is wise.

The study looked at 12,000 insect bites and 1,750 people. About 42% were female, and most were around 39 years old.23 Mosquito bites topped the list, making up 95% of all bites.23 Itch from mosquito bites decreased by 57% in the first minute of treatment, and by 81% in 5 to 10 minutes.23 Those who got hyperthermia treatment felt less itch and pain compared to others.

Allergic reactions to Hymenoptera stings were a big concern. But overall, bites from Diptera insects were more common.23

Another study found that among 5,641 cases of insect bites, 67.1% got antibiotics.24 General doctors prescribed antibiotics in 60.5% of cases. But, advanced nurse practitioners did in 71.1% of cases.24 Antibiotics were more likely for bites showing pain, swelling, or spreading.24 Based on these results, England might see 1.5 million insect bite cases each year.24


What are the common types of insects that bite?

You can get bitten by mosquitoes, ticks, fleas, bed bugs, and spiders.

What are the symptoms of bug bites?

Bug bites might cause itching, swelling, redness, and pain. They could lead to hives, breathing trouble, or dizziness in some cases.

When should I seek emergency help for a bug bite?

Call 911 right away if a child is stung by a scorpion. Or, if someone shows signs like trouble breathing or swollen lips, get help fast.If there’s dizziness, fainting, a rapid pulse, or severe nausea, seek emergency care.Hives, vomiting, or diarrhea are also signs to watch out for.

What are some home remedies for mild bug bites?

Treat mild bug bites with a cold compress or baking soda paste. You can also use calamine lotion for itching. Over-the-counter antihistamines help too.

How do I treat a bug bite?

After removing any stingers, wash the bite with soap. Then, apply a cold compress or any of the mentioned remedies.

What are some natural bug repellent options?

You can repel bugs by using essential oils. Peppermint, lavender, and citronella are good choices. Rosemary, basil, and lemon balm are plants that bugs don’t like.

What should I do if I get a tick bite?

If a tick bites you, remove it carefully and save it in a sealed bag. Then, see a dermatologist to check for diseases like Lyme.

How do I know if a bug bite is infected?

An infected bite may feel tender, be red, and become hot to the touch. Seek medical advice for a bite with these signs.

What if over-the-counter remedies don’t work for my persistent bug bite itching and swelling?

If itching persists, see a dermatologist. You might need a prescription for a stronger treatment.

How can I prevent bug bites?

Prevent bug bites by using DEET repellent and avoiding places with lots of bugs. Essential oils and bug-repelling plants can help too.

When should I visit a walk-in clinic for a bug bite?

Any bite that looks serious or feels like it’s getting worse should be checked by a doctor. Don’t wait if you’re worried.

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