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

Your guide to bites from different creepy-crawlies.

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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 Nemours Children's Health, these 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 your guide to identifying and dealing with insect bites.

01 of 10

Spider Bites

Most of the time, if you're bitten by a spider, the bite will look similar to a bee sting, according to MedlinePlus. The area will be red, swollen, and painful. Thousands of types of spiders (technically arachnids, not insects) crawl around the US, but 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 Nemours Children's Health. If you do experience these symptoms, get medical help right away because the reactions can be severe.

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

02 of 10

Fly Bites

Flies in the US 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 this, 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, sand flies can pass on a skin disease called leishmaniasis, according according to the Illinois Department of Public Health. 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.

03 of 10

Mosquito Bites

Mosquitoes are infamous for spreading disease. Most of the time, you'll just experience a red pimple 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, a public health entomologist with the Georgia Department of Public Health. "Most are a nuisance and some are more than that."

People can have severe allergic reactions to mosquito bites. This can trigger hives, a low-grade fever, and swollen lymph nodes, according to the CDC. It's also possible to develop an infection from a mosquito bite. The bite will appear red and feel warm to the touch. If any of these symptoms arise, consult a healthcare provider.

04 of 10

Tick Bites

Ticks are almost as famous as mosquitoes for spreading disease. Some of the diseases ticks are responsible for spreading to humans include Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, and tularemia, according to MedlinePlus.

Most of these illnesses have common symptoms. "All tick diseases have classic flu-like symptoms and some have a rash," Dr. Kelly said. "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 MedlinePlus. To prevent ticks, you should avoid tick infested areas and check yourself, pets, and children daily for any ticks that might be attached to the skin.

05 of 10

Flea Bites

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

Fleas are typically more of a nuisance than a health threat, but they can transmit potentially life-threatening plague and typhus according to MedlinePlus.

Oral antihistamines or hydrocortisone cream, similar to those used to treat fly and spider bites, can help with itching and allergic reactions, according to MedlinePlus.

06 of 10

Bed Bug Bites

Bed bugs are tricky insects that like to hide in chairs, couches, curtains, and of course—beds. According to MedlinePlus, 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 US, they've become a very large problem first in hotels and now in apartments and multi-unit housing," Dr. Kelly said. 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 MedlinePlus.

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

07 of 10

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 MedlinePlus.

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 MedlinePlus.

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

Medicated shampoos—both over-the-counter and prescription—can help get rid of them, as can combing and re-combing your hair carefully and disposing of the critters, according to MedlinePlus. 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.

08 of 10

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 Children's Health.

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

Chigger bites usually appear on your legs, waist, or in the folds of your skin, according to MedlinePlus. 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, according to Nemours Children's Health.

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

09 of 10

Ant Bites

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," Dr. Kelly said.

Not only do ant bites hurt and sting, they can also turn red, swell, and fill with pus, according to the National Capital Poison Center. The best thing to do (once you've swiped the ants off you) is wash the bite area with soap and water. You can also apply a cold compress and take over-the-counter pain medication as needed.

As long as you're not allergic, you'll be back to normal in a few hours. 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. If that happens, call your healthcare provider or get to an emergency room.

10 of 10

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 MedlinePlus. 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.

Most bug bites are annoying, but harmless. It is likely all you need is 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.

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