Insect bites can cause an allergic reaction. More people have allergic reactions to stinging insects than to biting insects.
Signs and Symptoms
- Red, swollen, warm lump or hives
- Itching, tenderness, pain
- Sores from scratching; can be infected
- Serious allergic reactions when symptoms spread (this is called anaphylaxis). These can include difficulty breathing, dizziness, nausea, diarrhea, fever, muscle spasms, or loss of consciousness. Call for emergency medical help right away.
What Causes It?Stinging insects include bumblebees, yellow jackets, hornets, wasps, and fire and harvester ants. Biting insects include conenose bugs, mosquitoes, horseflies, deerflies, spiders, bedbugs, and black flies.
What to Expect at Your Provider's OfficeYour health care provider will determine if you are having, or are at risk of having a serious allergic reaction. If you are having an allergic reaction, your provider will give you drugs to stop it. When you feel better, you may have a series of shots to prevent a strong reaction if you are bitten again.
Treatment OptionsLarge local reactions usually go away in three to seven days with no treatment. For symptom relief, use the following.
- Ice pack or wet compresses
- 1 tsp. meat tenderizer mixed with 1 tsp. water applied to bite
- Antihistamines and anti-inflammatories may be recommended for itching and swelling.
- Topical and oral steroids may be prescribed by your physician.
- Antibiotics will be prescribed if infection is presented.
- If the reaction is serious enough that a hospital visit is warranted, anithistamines may be given intravenously and epinepherine (adrenaline) may be administered.
Complementary and Alternative Therapies Anaphylaxis requires immediate medical attention.
High doses of flavonoids and vitamins may reduce severity and duration of reaction.
- B complex (50 to 100 mg a day), especially B1 (50 to 100 mg one to two times a day) and B12 (1,000 mcg a day) can be used in prevention as a mosquito repellent.
- Vitamin C helps reduce histamine release, resulting in a milder reaction.
- Bromelain (250 to 500 mg four times a day between meals) is a proteolytic enzyme that has anti-inflammatory effects.
HerbsHerbs may be used as dried extracts (capsules, powders, teas), glycerites (glycerine extracts), or tinctures (alcohol extracts). Unless otherwise indicated, teas should be made with 1 tsp. herb per cup of hot water. Steep covered 5 to 10 minutes for leaf or flowers, and 10 to 20 minutes for roots. Drink 2 to 4 cups per day.
- Licorice root (Glycyrrhiza glabra) reduces inflammation. Take 500 to 1,000 mg every three to four hours during acute reaction. Do not use licorice root if you have high blood pressure.
- Quercetin is a flavonoid that has powerful anti-inflammatory effects. Take 500 to 800 mg every two hours for severe reactions.
- Turmeric (Curcuma longa) strengthens the effects of bromelain. Take 250 to 500 mg four times a day with bromelain.
- Combine equal parts of coneflower (Echinacea purpura), cleavers (Galium aparine), oatstraw (Avena sativa), red clover (Trifolium pratense), elder (Sambucus nigra), and marigold (Calendula officinalis). This is best used as a tea, 4 to 6 cups per day, to increase hydration. Tincture may be used as well (30 to 60 drops four times a day).
- Poultice of bentonite clay and goldenseal powder (Hydrastis canadensis) with enough water to make a paste. Add several drops of essential oil (4 to 6 drops per tbsp. of paste), such as lavender, peppermint, chamomile, or tea tree. Use this topically with severe inflammation and swelling as it has soothing properties.
- Poultice of raw grated potato or plantain leaves (Plantago lanceolata).
- Make a strong tea from peppermint (Mentha piperita) using 1 heaping tsp. per cup. Place in spray bottle and chill. Spray on stings and bites to relieve itching.
- Witch hazel mixed with a few drops of lavender oil can be used as a cooling compress.
- Bug repellent herbs include lavender, citronella, eucalyptus, and pennyroyal. Mix 15 drops of each essential oil with 1 oz. of food-grade oil (for example, almond or olive). May need frequent application, three to four times per day.
There have been few studies examining the effectiveness of specific homeopathic remedies. A professional homeopath, however, may recommend one or more of the following treatments for insect bites and stings based on his or her knowledge and clinical experience. Before prescribing a remedy, homeopaths take into account a person's constitutional type. In homeopathic terms, a person's constitution is his or her physical, emotional, and intellectual makeup. An experienced homeopath assesses all of these factors when determining the most appropriate remedy for a particular individual.
- Apis mellifica — for stinging pains with rapid swelling and affected area that is warm to the touch; this remedy is most appropriate for individuals who feel better with cold applications; Apis is recommended if hives are present or if Ledum does not reduce pain or swelling after 4 hours
- Hypericum — for bites accompanied by sharp, shooting pains that often occur in sensitive areas, such as at the ends of fingers or toes
- Ledum — most commonly used homeopathic agent for bites and stings from bees, mosquitoes, wasps, spiders, or rats; affected area is cold to the touch but cold applications or immersion in cold water improves symptoms
- Staphysagria — for children with large, itchy mosquito bites that may create large welts
- Urtica urens — for red, swollen bites with itching and stinging; may be used instead of Apis to treat hives
May be helpful in reducing inflammation.
Following UpSometimes serious reactions happen again soon after the first reaction stops. Your provider may want to observe you for 8 to 12 hours.
- If you have had a serious reaction to an insect bite, keep an emergency insect sting kit and wear a medical alert bracelet.
- Keep bites clean and, to prevent infection, don't scratch.
- When outdoors, avoid perfumes and floral-patterned or dark clothing.
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