Bug Bites and Stings: Keeping It Simple

Many areas are opening back up for travel, and many of us are spending more time outdoors. How fun! Spending more times outdoors and in certain areas however can increase the chance of bites and stings.

Use these rules of thumb to assess bites and stings...and help manage the redness, swelling, or itching they can cause.

Prevention Is Key

Covering exposed skin as much as possible especially at night, in dense woods, or other situations where you may be at increased chance of bites/strings.

Insect repellents with DEET 10% to 30% or even picaridin will ward off most biting bugs. 

Investigate The Culprit 

By reviewing photos of bites from fire ants, bees,spider and other insects you can help identify the culprit. Make sure to use reliable sources for reference.

Example Bites:

Also consider where you have recently been as it may eliminate or hint at the culprit. Location, grouping of bites, and timing of symptom onset are all helpful. For instance, think of mosquitoes if near a lake.

Rule Out

There are other causes that may look similar to bites such as folliculitis, MRSA infection, or shingles.

Seek Medical Attention 

Have a medical provider evaluate you when there are signs of infection (warmth, spreading redness, pus formation) or if symptoms persist/escalate. You should seek emergency care for a systemic reaction (fever, hives, trouble breathing, etc) or severe pain.

Possible Treatments

Cold compresses are a great start to help swelling. If you are experiencing pain acetaminophen or ibuprofen are great choices for relief.

Short-term use of a topical product such as hydrocortisone or calamine is great for itching, and redness. There's no good evidence for one product over another.


 -Dane Van Lizzen Pharm D



  • Am Fam Physician 2013;88(12):841-7
  • Ann Allergy Asthma Immunol 2017;118(1):28-54

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