Health Topics Information

Outdoor Buzz: Take the Sting Out of Insect Bites

Outdoor Buzz: Take the Sting Out of Insect Bites

Whether you’re in the backyard or the back country, you may encounter nature’s smallest locals: bees, mosquitoes, ticks and chiggers. While usually just an annoyance, some bites and stings can hurt, itch, spread disease, or even be deadly. The first step to protecting yourself is taking preventive measures to keep these pesky creatures at bay.

  • Cover up with long sleeves and pants and tuck your pants into your socks to keep insects out.
  • Use insect repellant with DEET to protect against chiggers, mosquitoes and ticks.
  • Go inside during dawn and dusk to avoid peak mosquito hours.
  • Take a hot shower or bath after being outside to reduce chigger bites.
  • Avoid flowering plants and trees and don’t wear bright colors that attract bees, wasps and hornets.

If you do have an unfortunate encounter, take the sting out of insect bites with these tips.

Bees, wasps and hornets
After a sting, it’s important remove the stinger as quickly as possible to prevent more venom from getting under the skin. Do this by gently scraping horizontally with a credit card or the dull side of a knife. Avoid using tweezers because squeezing the stinger releases more venom. Seek immediate attention for these symptoms:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Lip, eyelid or throat swelling
  • Dizziness, faintness or confusion
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Hives
  • Nausea, cramps, vomiting

Most stings result in a red, swollen and sometimes itchy welt. Apply a cold compress or ice pack to help reduce pain and swelling. If stung on a limb, elevate it to reduce swelling. You can also apply hydrocortisone cream or calamine lotion, or take an antihistamine for itching. Swelling and pain should go away within a day or two.

Most tick bites are harmless and do not lead to infection. But some can spread illnesses such as Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. To remove a tick, use tweezers to grasp it by the head and pull straight up. If the head stays attached, try removing the entire head either with tweezers or a needle. Seek medical attention if a rash or fever develop in the next two weeks. Other symptoms to watch for include:

  • Neck stiffness
  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Weakness
  • Muscle/joint pain or aches
  • Fever/chills
  • Swollen lymph nodes

Mosquito bites are itchy and annoying, but some also transmit West Nile Virus. Most people never feel sick and about one in five people will develop a fever or minor symptoms such as headache, body aches, joint pain, vomiting, diarrhea or rash.

Just one in 150 will develop a serious and sometimes fatal case of West Nile Virus. Seek medical attention for symptoms including high fever, headache, neck stiffness, disorientation, convulsions, muscle weakness, loss of vision, numbness, paralysis and coma.

These tiny creatures pack a powerful itch, but they don’t spread disease. Chiggers live in grassy areas usually just a foot off the ground. It’s the babies which typically latch onto clothing and crawl onto your skin where they make tiny holes with their sharp claws. The resulting red welt can itch for days. Use calamine lotion, hydrocortisone cream or an over-the-counter antihistamine to reduce the itch.

Brandon Price MD


(Dr. Brandon Price is a family medicine provider at CHI St. Alexius Health Mandan Medical Plaza.)