Summer Stings: Identifying and Preventing Bug Bites

identifying bug bites

A recent study found that during a 9-year period, 10.1 million people visited emergency departments due to insect bites and stings. You might be shocked to learn that these seemingly small bites translate to an estimated $7.5 billion annually of medical time and lost work time.

Read on to learn all about identifying bug bites and when to visit an urgent care.


The best way to avoid serious complications from bugs is to prevent bites.

Long-sleeved shirts and pants that are light-weight are a great defense against biting insects. This minimizes the amount of skin that is exposed. It's good if you can tuck pants into socks and shirts into pants to reduce open spots where bugs can get in.

Hats can also help. For babies, place a mosquito net over strollers and carriers.

Children and babies over two months can wear insect repellent. The best insect repellents contain DEET or picaridin.

There is a big focus on essential oils and natural repellents such as citronella. Yet, these are only somewhat effective.

Always carefully read the instructions on the package and reapply when needed. But sometimes, you or your child will get a bite even with all the prevention you could take.

Identifying Bug Bites

Different biting insects leave different types of marks. These are useful in helping us figure out which bug bite we see on our skin.

Bee stings result in a red bump with a white area around the bump. Flea bites leave an itchy welt around the legs or ankles.

Spider bites can look swollen, become red and painful. Serious symptoms will require urgent care.

Bedbugs leave a small red and itchy dot on the skin. It's rare to have just one bedbug bite. Typically there will be many bites.

Mosquito bites leave a raised bump that is itchy and pink. These can cause severe allergic reactions and can transmit dangerous viruses like Zika.

Tick bites result in what looks like a rash with a bulls-eye in the center.

Reaction to Bug Bites

In most cases, a reaction to a bug bit is a small amount of itchiness as well as slight redness and swelling.

Reactions usually show up in the first hour or so after a bite. The reaction is typically confined to the local area and can be treated with ice or topical steroids like 1 percent hydrocortisone.

Even if you don't treat the bug bite, redness and swelling tend to go away after three or four days.

When to Visit an Urgent Care

In some instances, a bug bite can result in a serious reaction. You should immediately visit the emergency room if you or your child experience any of these symptoms after an insect bite:

  • Accelerated heartbeat
  • Dizziness, fainting or confusion
  • Hives
  • Nausea, vomiting or muscle or stomach cramps
  • Swelling of the lips, eyelids or throat
  • Trouble breathing

It is possible for an insect bite to trigger an allergic attack. If you see someone who is experiencing these symptoms, ask if they have an epinephrine auto-injector.

Don't give someone with these symptoms a drink. Escort them to an ER or urgent care facility right away.

Bottom Line

In most cases, identifying bug bites is not necessary in order to get treatment. But it can be useful to help you understand what bit you so that you can take action for future instances.

Do you know when to go to urgent care and when to visit the emergency room? Check out this guide to tell the difference.

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