Insect Bites and Stings: Tips and Remedies
Here are some first aid tips for those annoying—and sometimes painful—insect bites and stingsfrom ticks to bee stings to mosquitoes.
- Depending on the species, ticks may carry Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, Colorado tick fever, or a number of other diseases. In fact, ticks are the leading carriers of diseases to humans in the U.S., and second only to mosquitoes worldwide. Similarly to mosquitoes, toxins in the tick’s saliva cause the disease.
- Hard ticks have a tough back plate and tend to feed for hours to days. With hard ticks, disease transmission usually occurs near the end of a meal.
- Soft ticks have a more rounded body and lack the back plate. They usually feed for less than an hour and disease transmission can occur in less than a minute.
- Lyme disease is caused by hard ticks including deer ticks. Sitting on a log in the woods, leaning up against a tree or gathering wood are risky activities when trying to avoid ticks.
- Tick bites are generally painless and may go completely unnoticed. You may notice a red, circular bump and some itching and burning once the tick is removed.
- To remove a tick, use tweezers to firmly grasp the tick close to its head and as close to your skin as possible. Avoid squeezing the tick’s abdomen; crushing a tick may transmit diseases.
- Pull gently upward until the tick comes free. Do not twist and turn the tick, as the head or mouth parts may break off and stay in the skin, increasing the chances for infection.
- Do not use petroleum jelly or a match to remove the tick.
- If you are bitten, it is recommended that you save the tick for identification and send it to a lab to test if the tick is carrying disease. In this case, place the tick in a tightly closed container, such as a vial or a zippered plastic bag (doubled, if the tick is alive). Do not soak the tick in alcohol. If the tick is alive (which is preferable for testing), some labs ask that you place a cotton ball moistened with a few drops of water in the container. Label the container with the date, your name and contact information, the bite’s location on the body, and your general health at the time. If known, also list the geographical location from which the tick may have originated. Send live ticks as soon as possible to a lab; some labs accept dead or damaged ticks as well. If the tick is dead and you don’t want to have it tested, you can store the container in the freezer for later tick ID in case symptoms develop.
- When disposing of a tick that has not attached yet, drop it into a sealed plastic bag and throw it into the trash. Or, you can drop it into a jar of rubbing alcohol; with this method, you can save it for later identification, although it is better not to do this if you want to have it tested for disease. You can also wrap the tick up in tape and throw it into the garbage; if you plan to have the tick tested, however, some labs ask that you do not use this method, as it is hard to extract the tick for testing. No matter what method you choose, do not touch the tick with your bare fingers.
- Do not flush a live tick down the toilet. Ticks do not drown in water and have been known to crawl back up out of the toilet bowl.
- Clean the bite area with soap and water or a mild disinfectant. Disinfect the tweezers with rubbing alcohol, and wash your hands thoroughly.
- Observe the bite area for several days. Illnesses transmitted by the tick often begin only days or weeks after the tick is gone. If symptoms occur, tell the physician if you have been outdoors. Symptoms may include fever, numbness, rash, confusion, weakness, pain and swelling in the joints, shortness of breath, nausea, and/or vomiting. Blood tests are needed to diagnose any illness.
- To avoid ticks, stay away from outdoor areas where ticks thrive during the months of April through September.
- Tuck pants into boots or socks. Wear light colored clothes so ticks can be easily spotted and brushed off. Apply insect repellent. Promptly check yourself, others, and pets if exposed to tick areas.
- If you have a history of severe reactions to insect stings, call emergency medical services.
- If the stinger is still present, remove it immediately. Gently scrape the skin with a credit card, your thumbnail, or a blunt knife.
- Don’t pinch the stringer with your fingers or tweezers because this could squeeze more venom into the skin.
- Apply ice or cold packs to constrict the capillaries and reduce swelling.
- Clean the area with soap and water and apply a hydrocortisone cream or a mixture of baking soda and water.
- If no other treatment is available, just scoop up a handful of mud and hold it on the sting until the mud dries or apply a slice of onion to the spot and hold it for a minute or so.
- Male mosquitoes feed only on nectar, whereas female mosquitoes nourish their developing eggs with protein rich blood.
- Mosquitoes prefer to bite ankles and wrists, where blood vessels are nearer to the skin’s surface.
- Mosquitoes spit an anticoagulant under our skin, leaving us with whatever disease they’re carrying (encephalitis, malaria, West Nile virus, yellow fever).
- Lemon Eucalyptus oil can be used to repel mosquitoes.
- Cool the area of the bite to constrict the capillaries near the skin’s surface and reduce swelling. Try a cool compress.
- Remember not to scratch the bite; this will only make it worse.
- To eliminate the itch, rub on meat tenderizer or lemon juice.
- White vinegar is another remedy for relieving the itch of insect bites. Apply it in full strength. Don’t use vinegar if the area is raw.
Have some tips of your own? Please post below!