Preventing and treating bug bites is usually more of a nuisance than anything to be truly concerned about. But there are some exceptions, like bee stings and tick bites. More on them in a moment. First, a few tips for preventing and treating the more innocuous kind.
- Shower yourself in insect repellent. Look for one that contains 20-30% DEET, and spray it all over yourself, including your face, hair, and clothing. Avoid sunscreens that contain insect repellent because sunscreen needs to be reapplied much more often. Instead, apply your sunscreen first, let it dry, and then apply the insect repellent.
- Dress for the occasion. If you’re headed for a densely-wooded or swamp-y area, it’s smart to dress in a long-sleeve shirt, pants, socks, and shoes, even in the summer. Better yet: Pull your socks up over your pants and tuck in your shirt. It may get warm, but the less exposed skin you have, the better off you’ll be.
- If the bite itches, apply an over-the-counter anti-itch cream, like hydrocortisone, or take an over-the-counter antihistamine. An ice pack can also be effective. It’ll help reduce the swelling too.
- For a painful bite, like a bee sting, reach for the ibuprofen or acetaminophen, and take it as directed.
Taking the sting out of a bee sting
If you’ve been stung, the first thing you’ll want to do is get away from the spot where it happened. Bees only sting once, but there can be others around. And wasps and hornets can sting again.
Once you’re in a safe place, take a deep breath to calm yourself and then get the stinger out. The longer it stays in the skin, the more venom it releases, which is only going to add to your pain and swelling. If you can’t quite grasp it, try scraping it out with a fingernail. Avoid tweezers because squeezing the stinger can cause it to release more venom.
Wash the sting with soap and water, take ibuprofen or acetaminophen as directed to help with the pain, and apply an ice pack to reduce the swelling. If the swelling moves to other parts of your body, go to the emergency room immediately. It may be an allergic reaction. Other signs include trouble breathing, nausea, hives, and dizziness. This is when preventing and treating bug bites gets more serious and requires medical attention.
Spotting the elusive tick
After spending any amount of time outside, check yourself head to toe for ticks, especially your armpits, groin, and behind your ears. They’re popular hiding spots. Keep in mind: A young tick is about the size of a poppy seed.
A tick needs 24 hours to transmit the bacteria that causes Lyme disease, so removing the tick as soon as you find it should dramatically reduce your chances of getting Lyme. But, even once a rash has developed, the path to a full recovery is pretty straightforward, so long as it’s caught early: two weeks of antibiotics (doxycycline or amoxicillin).
The trouble is, in lieu of a tick, we’ve been taught to recognize its bite by the “bullseye” rash that develops as a result of it. But that’s actually only one of a bunch of different kinds of rashes that can be an indication of Lyme. And sometimes there can be no rash at all.
Preventing and treating bug bites from a tick can be difficult so it is important to stay on top of.
If you start experiencing flu-like symptoms—fatigue, nausea, headache, joint pain—see your doctor. They can be another indication of a tick bite too.