Medically Reviewed by Dr. David Costa Navarro
Insects such as bees, wasps and hornets inject a poison that can cause local or general reactions, sometimes even very serious. Other common insects, such as mosquitoes, ticks, bedbugs, flies, fleas, mites and lice, can sting or bite the skin by injecting an irritating saliva, but most of the time the reaction is only local.
How they manifest
A sting or biting of insects causes pain, itching, redness and swelling of the penetration area of the poison. Mosquito bites can sometimes cause the formation of liquid-filled bubbles, which persist for a few days and, after rupture, can become infected. In more rare cases, and in hypersensitive subjects, a serious allergic reaction can quickly follow the sting of an insect which can manifest itself with pallor, intense sweating, difficulty breathing, dizziness (due to a rapid drop in blood pressure), pain abdominal and urticaria.
What are the risks
The main risk is represented by general allergic reactions which can endanger life itself.
Another risk is the skin infection, often caused by scratching. Diabetic people in particular must pay attention to this risk.
Tips to avoid insect bites
When attending “at risk” places due to the presence of insects, you must first pay attention to your clothing. It is a good rule to wear clothes with long sleeves, long pants, neutral in color (e.g. beige): the bright color (yellow, red) can attract bees and wasps. Avoid perfumes that can attract insects. At home, avoid using saucers that can be the breeding ground for mosquitoes or insects. Be very careful to frequent shady, tree-lined and wet areas. If you use insect repellents, you must pay attention to their use in children, avoiding to apply them on the hands or around the eyes. The rules of use must then be respected and those who have previously shown signs of intolerance must be avoided. Finally, wash thoroughly the skin parts affected by the repellent, after exposure to the open air, with soap and water.
What should be done
- If the stinger is present, it must be carefully extracted. In case of tick bite, these must not be detached by force because the rostrum of the insect, breaking, remains in the tissues and can cause infections.
- Wash the tip area and disinfect it. Attention to apply ammonia: in addition to having an undocumented efficacy, it can make itself responsible, if not properly diluted, for local irritations of a certain importance.
- Apply a compress with cold water or ice to slow the absorption of the poison and relieve pain (the ice should not be put in direct contact with the skin).
- The itching and the inflammatory reaction can be controlled with a hydrocortisone-based cream, freely available in the pharmacy and to be used according to the instructions.
- A general advice is to always keep children’s nails cut short to avoid scratching damage and consequent infection of the skin already irritated by insect bites.
- People who are hypersensitive to hymenoptera venom (bees, wasps and hornets) should go to an Allergology Center to evaluate the desensitization treatment opportunity and, if their doctor will advise them, they should always have the drugs to take with them. case of hymenoptera puncture.
When to seek medical attention
- When the measures described above are not helpful and the symptoms following an insect bite are still present after 2-3 days.
- When signs of an infection appear, which should be suspected when the affected area turns red, it becomes hot and swollen and you have a fever.
- You should seek immediate medical attention or emergency department when, after being stung by an insect, you suddenly find it hard to breathe or you experience swelling of the face, lips and throat that is rapidly increasing.