Summertime is the time to be outside, enjoying great weather— whether you are swimming at the pool, playing in the yard, camping in the mountains or undertaking outdoor projects at home. With this summertime bliss can come encounters with the bugs who call the great outdoors their home. From mosquitoes to bees to spiders, there are many concerns that can arise from contact with these outdoor dwellers.
In the event that you or your child gets bit by a bug, below are our tips to help you treat at home—and understand when to seek medical attention.
Red harvester ants exist in Colorado— but thankfully we do not have fire ants here! These ant bites can cause significant pain, and will sometimes involve multiple bites from a single ant, as the ant can grab onto the skin with its pinchers and sting with its tail numerous times.
Following such bites, wash the area with warm soap and water and remove the stinger. If more severe pain is experienced, apply a cool compress and Calamine or T-relief cream. If worsening symptoms are more systemic (muscle cramps or spasm near the bite site, abdominal pain, fever, nausea or vomiting, headache or a change in mental awareness), please seek medical attention.
You can prevent encounters at or near your home by pouring boiling water over ant mounds or sprinkling flower fertilizer that is toxic to the ants around those areas.
Spiders can cause great trepidation for adults and children alike. There are two primary spiders to be aware of in Colorado that may require more than just at-home treatment and monitoring. Black widows are prevalent in low lying webs. They are primarily found in areas such as the garage, near swimming pools, window wells or BBQ grills.
The spider will only bite defensively to protect its web. The bite will likely include a sharp pain followed by swelling and redness. More concerning is the presentation of muscle cramps or spasm near the bite site, abdominal pain, fever, nausea or vomiting, headache or a change in mental awareness. In this instance medical care must be sought immediately and antivenom may need to be administered.
The second spider to be aware of is the brown recluse. These bites are often painless and people who are bitten develop reddened skin, which often leads to a blister. The blister can break down into an open wound, which would prompt medical care. Pain and itching can develop 2-8 hours following the bite. Some people can develop more systemic symptoms including, fever, chills or nausea, joint pain or a full body rash. If these symptoms occur, seek immediate medical attention.
Applying a cool wet washcloth to the area can alleviate the discomfort and slow the spread of the venom. Trying to identify the spider may also be helpful when coming into the doctor’s office for care.
If the spider bite is not accompanied by any of the above symptoms, it is likely a benign spider bite or brown recluse with a mild reaction that can be cared for at home in the same way as mosquito bites (described below).
Prevent these bites by regularly removing spider webs in the areas mentioned above and by wearing shoes in heavily wooded or foliaged areas. Inside the home, you can also use non-toxic spider traps such as these.
BEES & WASPS
Honey bees can cause great distress because people often don’t know whether they are truly allergic to bees until they have been stung. If a known allergy does exist, even greater anxiety is usually involved.
That being said, most people stung by a bee will just have one sting (the bee dies after it has stung someone) and develop a red bump or wheal (area of redness or hive-like pattern) at the site. Intense and immediate pain and itching can present, lasting a few hours to a few days.
Wasps, on the other hand, are capable of stinging multiple times when provoked. With both bee and wasp stings, a wider spread area of redness, warmth and tenderness can appear in the areas occurring near joints, the face (especially eyelid) or hands and feet. This generally lasts 3-4 days and will resolve.
Just because an area is red and swollen does not mean that it is infected. If the symptoms begin to improve and then redness, tenderness or warmth recur, a visit to the doctor would be wise.
Antihistamines, topical cool packs, arnica or T-relief homeopathic cream can all be used to relieve discomfort. 1 part baking soda to 3 parts water can be applied to alleviate the sting, burn or itch. Apply for 5 minutes and then rinse off.
Lastly, a severe anaphylactic reaction could result which may affect ability to breathe, cause nausea and severe vomiting or a change in mental status. This requires immediate medical attention and an administration of an epi-pen if one is known to be allergic.
MOSQUITOES & GNATS
Mosquitoes and gnats can be pesky and some individuals do develop quite significant reactions to these bites. They rarely get infected, and only then is a visit warranted.
For the majority of people, administration of an antihistamine such as Benadryl, Claritin or Zyrtec is sufficient. D-Hist Jr. is a natural option, though it does work more slowly than pharmaceuticals.
Topical application of After Bug Balm can help alleviate discomfort too. A combination of 2 tsp fractionated coconut oil, 10 drops lavender and 10 drops peppermint in a roller bottle can also be applied, as needed, after bite or sting. Our post about poison ivy discusses the many natural and over-the-counter itch relief treatments.
WHEN TO VISIT THE OFFICE
Besides allergic reactions, the main complication that would warrant a call to our office or a doctor’s visit is an infected bug bite. Here’s when to call:
- If you see increasing redness and swelling for a second time, after the initial swelling has improved
- If you see irregular margins of redness and swelling, shaped kind-of like an amoeba, or with finger like projections or streaking
- Increasing pain
- Skin breakdown or blisters
- Enlarged, painful or red lymph nodes larger than one centimeter
- You’re not sure what to do, or don’t feel comfortable treating this on your own at home
- Signs of general illness like fever, vomiting, fatigue or headache
In each case, there is the need to consider antibiotics. These are generally the only times that antibiotics are needed for bites or stings described above.