10 Types of Bug Bites and How To Treat Them

Most bug bites cause minor itching, redness, and swelling. However, some people may develop an allergic reaction.

If you spend time outdoors, pesky critters may bite you. Most of the time, all you'll get is a little red bump with itching and maybe some swelling. You can easily treat those insect bite symptoms with anti-itch creams and over-the-counter (OTC) antihistamines. 

However, occasionally, insect bites can cause dangerous allergic reactions. Symptoms of an allergic reaction might include difficulty breathing, hives, and swelling of the face, lips, or tongue. If that happens, see a healthcare provider right away.

Great concept of allergy and skin diseases, young woman scratching herself.
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Ant Bites

Of all the different varieties of ants, fire ant bites may be the most loathsome. Fire ants bite and hang onto your skin while they sting, rotate, and sting again. Symptoms of fire ant stings include:

  • A hive-like lesion with redness, pain, and itching
  • A lesion filled with yellow pus
  • A pus-filled lesion, larger than 10 centimeters, that is inflamed and swollen

"[Ants] are very aggressive, and they bite and sting in a little circle. So, it's a double whammy," Rosmarie Kelly, Ph.D., MPH, an entomologist and epidemiologist at the Georgia Department of Public Health, told Health.

Once you have swiped the ants off of you, wash the bite area with soap and water. You can also apply a cold compress and take OTC pain medication.

If you're not allergic to ants, you will develop a sterile pustule from the sting. Chemical compounds in the fire ant's venom, piperidine alkaloids, cause the pustule to form over a few hours. Pustules can last several days and may become infected if you scratch them open.

In contrast, if you have a rare allergy to ant bites, you may have trouble breathing or facial and lips swelling. Call a healthcare provider or seek emergency medical attention right away if that happens.

Bed Bug Bites

Bed bugs are tricky insects that hide in chairs, couches, curtains, and of course, beds. Bed bugs come out from hiding and feed every five to 10 days. However, bed bugs can last without food for over a year.

"[Bed bugs] are 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. So, bed bugs are nuisances but little else. 

"[Bed bugs] don't carry diseases, but they certainly can [cause] bad reactions," added Dr. Kelly.

Some people do not react at all to a bed bug bite. If you develop bite marks, they typically appear on the face, neck, and hands. Also, bite marks may have the following characteristics:

  • Red lesions larger than one centimeter
  • Three or more lesions, known as "breakfast, lunch, and dinner," in one spot
  • Swelling
  • Itching

Those marks usually do not appear for days or even two weeks afterward. However, if you have an allergic reaction, which is rare, seek emergency medical attention right away. Also, take steps to get rid of the infestation.

Bee Stings

While technically not a bite, bee stings are one of many bug-related attacks. If you're stung by a bee, immediately wash the area with soap and water. Then, remove the stinger with gauze or a fingernail. Also, applying ice can help reduce swelling if the sting is painful.

Bee stings can range from slightly painful to deadly. So, knowing the signs and symptoms of an allergic reaction is essential.

Mild symptoms that may develop after a bee sting include:

  • Pain
  • Swelling
  • Itching
  • Bleeding
  • Redness
  • Thick, hardened skin that feels warm to the touch

Mild reactions typically go away on their own within a few days. In contrast, severe reactions to bee stings occur several minutes to two hours after being stung. 

Large local reactions often cause large areas of the skin around the sting to swell hours after the sting, peaking at 48–72 hours. After that time, the swelling slowly resolves. Typically, those reactions are not dangerous.

Rarely, people with a history of large local reactions to bee stings can develop anaphylaxis with future stings. If you have anaphylaxis after a bee sting, you should immediately use an EpiPen and seek medical attention.

In addition to swelling, symptoms of an allergic reaction to a bee sting include:

  • Hives
  • Flushed skin
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Wheezing
  • Shock

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 reach your skin, where they start feeding.

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

Symptoms of chigger bites typically include:

  • Itching 
  • Red pimple-like lesions
  • Hives
  • A rash that develops on sun-exposed skin

Chigger bites usually appear on your legs, waist, or in the folds of your skin. The bites usually don't hurt. However, the bites can itch, starting within a few hours and worsening over the next few days. The itch will subside in a few days, and the red bumps will disappear in one to two weeks.

Scrub the area with soap and water to remove 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.

Flea Bites

Fleas are the bane of cats and dogs. Still, humans can get fleas, too. Flea bites typically show up on areas of skin where you wear close-fitting clothing, like the legs, waist, butt, thighs, and lower abdomen.

If you develop flea bites, you may notice symptoms like:

  • Small, red lesions
  • Three lesions that show up close together
  • Itching
  • Blisters, if you are allergic to fleas

Fleas are typically more of a nuisance than a health threat. Still, they can transmit potentially life-threatening plague and typhus. For instance, itching can pull bacteria into the skin and cause an infection.

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

Fly Bites

Flies in the United States usually don't transmit disease, but their bites can be savage. Symptoms may vary by the type of fly. Horse and deer flies, for instance, have scissor-like mouths that will painfully cut and tear your flesh. 

Black flies also have a vicious bite. If they appear en masse, the flies can 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 that typically cause red, swollen puncture wounds. You can treat fly bites with oral and topical antihistamines.

Head Lice Bites

Head lice are much more common in children than adults, mainly because children are more likely to put their heads together. The proximity makes it easy for the lice to spread from one head to another.

Head lice symptoms typically include:

  • Itching on the scalp
  • Small, red lesions on the scalp, neck, and shoulders
  • Crusting and oozing 
  • White eggs, called nits, that look like dandruff

"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 eliminate them. Also, carefully combing and re-combing your hair helps dispose of the critters.

If you get head lice, don't share anything that goes on your head (e.g., hats, brushes, headphones, or hair accessories). Also, wash any infested bedding and clothing in hot water.

Mosquito Bites

Mosquitoes are infamous for spreading disease. Most of the time, people develop symptoms like:

  • Small, round lesions
  • Bite marks in the center of the lesion
  • Itching
  • Swelling

However, mosquitoes feed on blood and can pass on various viruses, like dengue, West Nile, and malaria.

Any insect that feeds on blood can spread illnesses, and "mosquitoes are your prime example. Most are a nuisance, and some are more than that," said Dr. Kelly. 

For example, people can react significantly to mosquito bites, like developing hives, low-grade fever, and swollen lymph nodes. In other cases, secondary infection from a mosquito bite is also possible. The site will appear red, feel warm to the touch, and may spread. If any of those symptoms arise, consult a healthcare provider.

Spider Bites

Mostly, spider bites look similar to bee stings. Symptoms may include:

  • Redness
  • Swelling
  • Pain

Thousands of spiders— technically arachnids, not insects—crawl around the United States. However, only the black widow and the brown recluse can cause serious problems. 

Still, 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. If you have those symptoms, seek emergency medical attention right away.

Most spider bites are nonvenomous, and you can treat them at home. Wash the area with soap and water and use a cold compress to reduce pain and swelling. OTC pain relievers and antihistamines can help, as well.

Tick Bites

Ticks are almost as famous as mosquitoes for spreading disease. For example, some ticks spread Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, and tularemia to humans. Most of those illnesses have common symptoms.

Symptoms of tick bites vary between ticks. Still, some of the common symptoms include:

  • Red rash at the bite site
  • Blister
  • Pain 
  • Swelling
  • Feeling weak
  • Clumsiness
  • Difficulty breathing

"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."

You should remove ticks from the skin as soon as you find them. To prevent ticks, avoid tick-infested areas and check yourself, your pets, and your children daily for any ticks that might be attached to the skin.

A Quick Review

Most bug bites are annoying but harmless. You will likely only need an anti-itch cream and an antihistamine for the itching. However, keep in mind that some bites can cause an allergic reaction. So, be aware of your symptoms and know when to seek medical help.

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18 Sources
Health.com uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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