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How to Know if an Insect Bite Reaction Demands a Trip to the ER

Posted by Pekin Insurance on Aug 20, 2018

Is that a normal insect bite reaction? Or is a trip to the doctor in your future? Find out. 


It seems easy enough. If you get bitten by a black widow or stung by a scorpion, you need to seek medical attention. If a mosquito bites you, you’ll probably be a little itchy but otherwise okay. Unfortunately, we don’t always know what bit us when we have an insect bite. Furthermore, an insect bite reaction can be a minor irritation, or it can be life-threatening.

For most people, though, the real confusion comes with the reactions that happen when we don’t know what bit us. We only see and feel it after the fact. Additionally, an insect bite reaction may also be wide-ranging when you consider that people have different degrees of physiological responses. So how do you know if that bite requires medical attention?


What to Do When You Don’t Know What Bit You

In most cases, insect bites aren’t anything to worry about. They may be itchy or uncomfortable, but the irritation subsides within a couple of days, and we go on our way barely remembering the annoyance.

For a mild insect bite reaction or bee sting, use the edge of a credit card or something similar to scrape away the stinger (if needed) then wash the area with soap and water. Using a cold compress or ice pack can help minimize any swelling and reduce pain. A baking soda paste or calamine lotion can reduce the itching, and an antihistamine could help reduce swelling (check with your pediatrician before giving an antihistamine to a child).

A one-to-one mix of vinegar and water, applied with a cloth or cotton ball, is good for relieving the pain associated with a bee sting (or a jellyfish sting).


When an Insect Bite Reaction Is an Emergency

There are also times when a bite or sting may require immediate medical attention, especially in the case of bee stings. Someone who is stung in the mouth, nose, or throat should seek medical care immediately. Reactions that require emergency care include:

  • Abdominal cramping, vomiting, nausea, or diarrhea
  • Chest tightness
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Swollen tongue or throat
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Dizziness
  • Loss of consciousness

According to Beaumont Health, if you have an allergic reaction to an insect sting, there is a 60% chance that you could have a worse reaction if you are stung again. They recommend talking to your doctor about carrying an anaphylaxis kit. 


Some reactions develop over time but are serious and need medical attention, as well.

  • A red, bull’s-eye shaped rash could be a sign of Lyme disease—a tick-borne illness that can cause fatigue, stiff joints, headaches, and other neurological symptoms including muscle weakness or numbness. Lyme disease is treatable with antibiotics, but outcomes are better if the disease is diagnosed and treated quickly. Not all ticks carry Lyme, so if you do find and remove a tick, save it in a tightly sealed container and bring it to your doctor. It’s also worth noting that Lyme disease may have any number of symptoms, so don’t rely exclusively on the tell-tale rash to decide whether or not to see your doctor. 
  • Rocky Mountain spotted fever is another tick-borne illness that can be life-threatening if left untreated. Some symptoms include fever, rash, nausea, appetite loss, muscle pain, and vomiting. The disease can damage blood vessels severely enough to result in amputations, and according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), is fatal in about 5–10% of cases. 
  • Mosquitos are a vector for West Nile virus. Only about 1 in 150 people infected with West Nile virus develop severe symptoms. However, those symptoms, including high fever, headache, stiff neck, tremors, vision loss, and coma, can be traumatic, and recovery can take weeks or even months. Though no antiviral treatments are available, patients with severe symptoms may be hospitalized to receive nursing care. 

If you’ve been in a wooded or grassy area and notice these symptoms, check in with your physician. Ticks and mosquitos thrive in these areas throughout the U.S. and could infect you without you ever knowing they were there.



How to Prevent Insect Bites

To prevent insect bites, the CDC recommends using an EPA-registered insect repellent with one of these ingredients:

  • DEET
  • Picaridin
  • IR3535
  • Oil of lemon eucalyptus (OLE)
  • Para-menthane-diol (PMD)
  • 2-undecanone

Always follow instructions when applying insect repellent, and be sure to avoid children’s hands, eyes, mouth, and cut or irritated skin. The CDC also recommends against using insect repellent on babies younger than two months old or using OLE or PMD with children under three.

Though it won’t prevent insect bites, it is also helpful to wear light-colored clothing. That makes it easier to notice and remove ticks and other insects.


Insects don't just bite. Some of them can destroy the foundation of your home. Call your Pekin Insurance agent today to learn more about home insurance and what you can do to protect your investment. 



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