Bites and stings: symptoms and treatment

By September 27, 2017Blog
first aid kit supplies laid out on table

Sometimes, it really hurts when you get bitten or stung by an insect or spider. Then other times, you don’t even know it happened!

Insect and spider bites vary depending on the type of bite it is, but they all sometimes cause some swelling, redness, pain and itch. Most of the symptoms will subside within a few hours or a couple of days at the latest, but there are times when you might need medical attention.

What do you do to treat a mild insect bite or sting?

Here are some tips for treating mild symptoms:

  • Remove the stinger if needed
  • Use soap and water to clean the area thoroughly.
  • Use a cool compress – like a damp, cool cloth or a bag of ice – to reduce pain and swelling.
  • Elevate your arm or leg if that’s where you were bitten.
  • Use a hydrocortisone, pramoxine or lidocaine cream to help with pain, or try oatmeal-based creams or calamine lotion for itchy skin.
  • Take over-the-counter pain relievers – i.e. acetaminophen, ibuprofen – or an antihistamine like Benadryl.

When is your bite or sting serious?

Here are some of the more serious symptoms of an insect or spider bite:

  • Anaphylaxis – This is a severe allergic reaction. Although it is uncommon, it’s very critical and requires emergency medical care. If you think someone around you is suffering from anaphylaxis, be sure to ask everyone else around you if there’s an EpiPen or other type of epinephrine autoinjector available for use. Here are the signs:
    • Shock – this happens when the circulatory system can’t pump enough blood to your vital organs.
    • Coughing
    • Wheezing
    • Problems breathing
    • Your throat or mouth has a feeling of “fullness.”
    • Swollen lips, tongue, ears, eyelids, hands, feet, and/or mucous membranes
    • Lightheadedness, dizziness or feeling confused.
    • Nausea
    • Diarrhea
    • Stomach cramps
    • Hives on your skin
  • If you’ve been bitten by a black widow, a brown recluse, a scorpion or a puss caterpillar, you might have a toxic reaction. You can also have a toxic reaction if you are bit or stung multiple times by a bee, hornet, yellow jacket, killer bee, wasp or fire ant. See a doctor immediately.
  • Skin reaction – If you see swelling and redness moving away from the site where the bug bit or stung you, then you might be having a skin reaction. Often, the swelling will go across joints, like from the elbow to the shoulder.  
  • Serum sickness – this is when your body reacts to the antiserum doctors use to treat a bite or sting. If you have serum sickness, you’re likely to have hives and/or flu-like symptoms for three to 21 days after the shot.


Most insect bites or stings are mild, and symptoms will go away on their own. If you think your insect bite or sting is more serious, call or stop by an Urgent Care clinic today.