What Common Insect Bites Look Like

  • smiling middle aged man camping
    More Than Just a Nuisance
    For many in the United States, insect bites are just another (annoying) part of life outdoors for a large portion of the year, particularly during summer. However, not all insect bites are the same, and your body’s reactions can range from mild to severe. By looking for these key signs and symptoms of bug bites, you can know if a bite might be serious and be able to take rapid first-aid action.

  • mosquito-bites-on-skin
    Mosquitoes have long been a staple of summer nights, and more recently they’ve made headlines as the primary transmitters of the Zika virus. They often go undetected until you feel a slight pinch and then experience itching, redness and swelling. Aside from the Zika and West Nile viruses, mosquitoes also can transmit malaria and dengue virus, but those are not common in the U.S. Treat mosquito bites initially with a cold compress to take away the itch and alleviate the swelling. Lotions, such as antihistamine lotion, and oral antihistamines can also help reduce reactions to mosquito bites. See a doctor about any mosquito bites that you suspect might be infected because of excessive scratching.

  • man-holding-up-wasp-bite-on-hand
    Bees, Wasps and Hornets
    Wasps, bees and hornets are all more likely to cause serious allergic reactions than other insects. Nearly 10 million American adults have a severe allergy to insect venom; even if previously you haven’t been allergic, you still can develop an allergy. Wasps retain their stinger and can sting the same person multiple times, but bees only sting once. Both stings look similar, however, so after being stung, use a dull knife or a tweezers to lightly remove the stinger, if it’s there, and apply ice for 10 minutes. Remove the ice for 10 minutes and apply again until the pain subsides. An oral antihistamine such as Benadryl can also be helpful for reducing mild swelling and pain, but be on the lookout for serious swelling, hives, difficulty breathing, nausea, vomiting and other life-threatening signs of allergic reaction, called anaphylaxis. People with previously diagnosed severe insect allergies should always keep an auto-injector of epinephrine (EpiPen) near for quick treatment if they are stung, and others who develop troubling symptoms should seek immediate medical attention.

  • exposed-back-of-person-showing-bedbug-bites
    Bedbugs tend to live within eight feet of where people sleep—usually in box springs, mattresses, bed frames, or wallpaper—and typically bite animals and people at night while they sleep. Although they are a nuisance and can be difficult to get rid of, bedbugs don’t transmit disease. Sometimes it can be hard to distinguish between a mosquito bite and a bedbug bite, but if you see other signs of infestation, such as any sign of bedbugs near where you sleep or rusty-colored spots on your bed, call an exterminator. Some people are allergic to bedbugs, and their bites can cause anaphylaxis, but those cases are rare.

  • arm-with-flea-bites
    Fleas often enter a household via a pet; in fact, fleas prefer cats and dogs over humans. But after a flea infestation has continued for some time, fleas will move on to another food source, usually biting humans around the waist, elbows, knees, ankles and armpits. Flea bites turn white when you press on them, and they often appear as three bumps together. Hydrocortisone cream and antihistamines can help, but it’s also important to treat your household to eliminate the flea infestation.

  • engorged-tick-biting-human-arm
    Although there are several different species of ticks, only a few transmit diseases to humans. Removing a tick is relatively straightforward: Use a fine set of tweezers to grasp it as close to the skin as possible, pulling upward to remove it. Don’t cover it in anything and wait for it to retreat; remove it as soon as possible. Afterward, wash your hands and clean the bite with alcohol. A bite from a Lone Star tick can cause people to develop an allergy to meat. Other species of ticks transmit Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, ehrlichiosis or one of a dozen additional diseases. If you develop a fever, a bulls-eye rash, or aches after being bitten by a tick, see your doctor.

  • Applying Bug Spray
    How to Protect Yourself
    A few tips will help you prevent insect bites, protecting your family’s outdoor fun and good health. Always keep food and drinks covered outside, avoid walking barefoot outside, and don’t wear brightly colored clothing—it attracts bees. If you are stung by a wasp or bee, immediately leave the area because they send signals to other wasps and bees; if you stay you might get stung again. To protect yourself from ticks and mosquitoes, wear long pants, long-sleeved shirts, shoes and socks, and consider tucking pants into socks. Consider using insect repellant with DEET, which makes it harder for insects to detect you, following the instructions on the label. Always check yourself for ticks when you come inside. The same precautions apply to your pets: Don’t let them bring fleas and ticks inside your home.

What Common Insect Bites Look Like

About The Author

  1. Insect Bites and Stings. U.S. National Library of Medicine. https://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/insectbitesandstings.html
  2. Identifying Insect Bites and Stings. American Academy of Pediatrics. https://www.healthychildren.org/English/health-issues/conditions/from-insects-animals/Pages/Identifying-Insect-Bites-and-Stings.aspx
  3. Insect Allergies. Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. http://www.aafa.org/page/insect-allergy.aspx
  4. Avoid Mosquito Bites. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/features/stopmosquitoes/
  5. Ticks. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/ticks/
  6. Fleas. U.S. National Library of Medicine. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/001329.htm
  7. Parasites-Bed Bugs. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/parasites/bedbugs/
  8. Insect Sting Allergy. American College of Asthma, Allergy & Immunology. http://acaai.org/allergies/types/insect-sting-allergies
  9. DEET. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. https://www.epa.gov/insect-repellents/deet

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Last Review Date: 2018 Sep 11
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