10 Insect Bites To Look Out For—and How To Treat Them

Your guide to bites from different creepy-crawlies.

If you spend time outdoors, annoying critters may bite you. Most of the time, all you'll get is a little red bump with itching and maybe some swelling. 

According to the Nemours Foundation, those insect bite symptoms can be treated easily with anti-itch creams and over-the-counter antihistamines. But occasionally, bites can cause allergic reactions that can be dangerous. 

Allergic reactions can include symptoms such as difficulty breathing, hives, and swelling of the face, lips, or tongue. If that happens, you need to see a healthcare provider or seek emergency care.

Here's what you should know about identifying and dealing with insect bites.

Spider Bites

Most of the time, if a spider bites you, the bite will look similar to a bee sting, according to the National Library of Medicine. The area will be red, swollen, and painful.

Thousands of types of spiders (technically arachnids, not insects) crawl around the United States. Still, only two of them—the black widow and the brown recluse—can cause serious problems, and even those are rare.

Very few people experience severe pain and cramping from a black widow bite or joint pain from a brown recluse bite, according to the Nemours Foundation. If you experience these symptoms, get medical help immediately because the reactions can be severe.

Most spider bites are nonvenomous and can be treated at home, according to the National Library of Medicine. Wash the area with soap and water and use a cold compress to reduce pain and swelling. Over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers and antihistamines can help as well.

Fly Bites

Flies in the United States usually don't transmit disease, but their bites can be savage. 

Horse and deer flies, for instance, have scissor-like mouths that will cut and tear your flesh, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health. Because of that, their bites can be pretty painful. Black flies also have a vicious bite and, if they appear en masse, can really hurt you. In rare cases, sandflies can pass on a skin disease called leishmaniasis.

Some flies can trigger allergic reactions from the saliva in their bite. For the most part, though, flies are airborne nuisances, and their bites can be treated with oral and topical antihistamines.

Mosquito Bites

Mosquitoes are infamous for spreading disease. Most of the time, you'll just experience a red pimple-like bump and itchy skin. But mosquitoes feed on blood, and they can pass on various viruses, including dengue, West Nile, and malaria, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Any insect that feeds on blood can spread illnesses, and "mosquitoes are your prime example," said Rosmarie Kelly, PhD, MPH, an entomologist and epidemiologist with the Georgia Department of Public Health in Atlanta. "Most are a nuisance, and some are more than that."

People can have significant reactions to mosquito bites. That can trigger hives, a low-grade fever, and swollen lymph nodes, according to the CDC

It's also possible to develop a secondary infection from a mosquito bite. The bite will appear red and feel warm to the touch and may spread from the site of the bite. If any of these symptoms arise, consult a healthcare provider.

Tick Bites

Ticks are almost as famous as mosquitoes for spreading disease, according to the National Library of Medicine. Some of the diseases ticks are responsible for spreading to humans include Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, and tularemia. Most of those illnesses have common symptoms.

 "All tick diseases have classic flu-like symptoms, and some have a rash," explained Dr. Kelly. "We tell people if they have a tick attached to themselves, they need to go to their healthcare provider if they have flu-like symptoms within three weeks during tick season."

Ticks should be removed from the skin as soon as they are found, according to the National Library of Medicine. To prevent ticks, you should avoid tick-infested areas and check yourself, your pets, and your children daily for any ticks that might be attached to the skin.

Flea Bites

Fleas are the bane of cats and dogs, but humans can get them, too. You'll see little red bumps if fleas have bitten you. Often, there will be three bumps together, according to the National Library of Medicine

Fleas are typically more of a nuisance than a health threat. Still, they can transmit potentially life-threatening plague and typhus, per the National Library of Medicine.

It's important not to scratch flea bites. Itching can pull bacteria into the skin and cause an infection. If you're allergic to flea bites, you can develop blisters.

Oral antihistamines or hydrocortisone cream, similar to those used to treat fly and spider bites, can help with itching and allergic reactions, according to the National Library of Medicine.

Bed Bug Bites

Bed bugs are tricky insects that like to hide in chairs, couches, curtains, and of course—beds. According to the National Library of Medicine, they tend to come out from hiding and feed every five to 10 days, but they can last without food for over a year.

"They're a huge problem because they're good hitchhikers and, in some areas of the [United States], they've become a very large problem first in hotels and now in apartments and multi-unit housing," explained Dr. Kelly. They're nuisances—but little else. "They don't carry diseases, but they certainly can [cause] bad reactions."

Some people have no reaction at all to a bed bug bite. Others have bite marks—red bumps that itch and swell—but they usually don't appear for days or even two weeks afterward, according to the National Library of Medicine.

If you have an allergic reaction, which is rare, seek medical help, according to the National Library of Medicine. And, of course, take steps to get rid of the infestation.

Head Lice Bites

Head lice are much more common in children than adults, largely because kids are more likely to put their heads together, literally. That makes it easy for the lice to spread from one head to the other, according to the National Library of Medicine.

Head lice cause itchiness (mainly on the scalp, ears, and neck) after they lay their eggs, called nits. Once the nits hatch, they may look like dandruff flaking off your head, according to the National Library of Medicine.

"Itching on your head is a pretty good sign that you have head lice," noted Dr. Kelly. "They don't carry disease, but they're a huge nuisance."

Medicated shampoos—both OTC and prescription—can help get rid of them, as can combing and re-combing your hair carefully and disposing of the critters, according to the National Library of Medicine

If you do get head lice, don't share anything that goes on your head (including hats, brushes, headphones, or hair accessories), and make sure you wash bedding and clothing that could have been infested in hot water.

Chigger Bites

Chiggers are mites that hang out in fields, forests, and lakes. Rubbing up against infested plants allows chiggers to attach to your clothes and make their way to your skin, where they start feeding, according to Nemours Foundation.

"They burrow into the top layer of skin, secrete saliva [that breaks down skin cells], then suck up the dissolved skin cells," explained Dr. Kelly.

Chigger bites usually appear on your legs, waist, or in the folds of your skin, according to the National Library of Medicine. The bites usually don't hurt, but they do itch, starting within a couple of hours and getting worse over the next few days. 

The itch will subside in a few days, and the red bumps disappear in one to two weeks, per the Nemours Foundation.

Scrub the area with soap and water to get rid of any remaining chiggers. Then try calamine lotion or anti-itch cream. As with other bites, try not to scratch because the bumps can get infected.

Ant Bites

Not only do ant bites hurt and sting, but they can also turn red, swell, and fill with pus, according to the National Capital Poison Center. Of all the different varieties of ants, fire ant bites may be the most loathsome. 

"They're very aggressive, and they bite and sting in a little circle, so it's a double whammy," noted Dr. Kelly.

The best thing to do (once you've swiped the ants off you) is to wash the bite area with soap and water. You can also apply a cold compress and take OTC pain medication.

You'll be back to normal in a few hours if you're not allergic. If you do have a rare allergy to ant bites, you may have trouble breathing or swelling in the face and lips, according to the National Capital Poison Center. Call your healthcare provider or get to an emergency room if that happens.

Bee Stings

While technically not a bite, bee stings are one of the many bug-related attacks to be wary of this season.

Bee stings can range from slightly painful to deadly, according to the National Library of Medicine. So, it's important to know the signs and symptoms of an allergic reaction.

If you're stung by a bee, the CDC recommends immediately washing the area with soap and water and then removing the stinger with gauze or a fingernail. Applying ice can help reduce swelling if painful.

If you have symptoms of a bee sting allergy, such as difficulty breathing or hives (itchy, red bumps) that appear near the bite, seek emergency medical care immediately, according to the National Capital Poison Center.

A Quick Review

Most bug bites are annoying but harmless. Likely, you need an anti-itch cream and an antihistamine for the itching.

But keep in mind that some bites can cause an allergic reaction. Be aware of your symptoms and know when to seek medical help.

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles