Scared of itchy bug bites? Hereโ€™s how to identify and treat them


Bug bites can often result in annoying, itchy skin bumps, that are red in colour. However, some bites can turn quite serious too.

Swelling, intense itching, even painful rashes and hives are just some of the symptoms of bug bites. While it depends on the kind of bug that has bitten you, bug bites can even lead to severe symptoms such as fever, nausea, dizziness as well as difficulty in breathing.

Be it an outdoor hike, or even your bedroom mattress, bug bites are common and can happen anywhere. The bites of bees, ants, bed bugs, mosquitoes and wasps can be quite painful, besides giving you an instant red bump on your skin. Some insectsโ€™ venom can turn out to be quite dangerous for you as well. So before you head out with your camping kit, here is all that you need to know about bug bites and how to treat them.

What is the first sign of a bug bite?

The first signs of a bug bite will mostly depend on the bug that has bitten you. Usually, redness, swelling, an itch or pain are the first noticeable signs of a bug bite. Different bugs can cause different reactions. For example, mosquito bites often result in small, itchy bumps, while spider bites might lead to more severe swelling and pain. โ€œSome bug bites can even cause allergic reactions in certain individuals, leading to more pronounced symptoms like hives or difficulty breathing,โ€ explains internal medicine doctor, Dr Basavaraj S Kumbar.

What causes reactions to bites and stings in the body?

Reactions to bites and stings occur because of the bodyโ€™s immune response to the foreign substances that are there in the insectโ€™s saliva or venom. โ€œWhen a bug bites or stings, it injects proteins, enzymes, and other substances into the skin. These substances can trigger the immune system, which sees them as foreign invaders and mounts a defence response,โ€ explains Dr Kumbar.

In most cases, this immune response results in redness, swelling, itching, and pain around the bite or sting site. โ€œHowever, in some individuals, the immune system may overreact to the bugโ€™s venom or saliva, leading to more severe reactions such as allergic reactions or even anaphylaxis,โ€ says Dr Kumbar. The severity of the reaction depends on various factors:

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  • Your immune system
  • The type of bug
  • The amount of venom injected
  • Previous exposure to the insectโ€™s saliva or venom

Different kinds of bug bites

1. Mosquito bites

Mosquito bites are the most common. These bites appear as a round, red bump on your skin. This would be very itchy initially. In fact, you may also notice a small dot at the centre of this. This bite is usually done by the female mosquito. Mosquito bites can lead to Malaria, dengue as well as encephalitis. The World Health Organisation recorded more than 241 million cases of malaria in 2020.

2. Flea bites

These bites are also itchy and will showcase in a cluster, as fleas are extremely tiny, and jump to get from one place to another. These multiply in no time. The skin around each bite would be sore and extremely scratchy. However, scratching can lead to making it worse. The National Institute of Health states that in order to prevent this bites, fleas need to be eliminated from your surroundings. This can be done by Insecticidal sprays as well as vacuuming to remove the eggs.

3. Fly bites

These bites are not serious and are caused by flies around you. There are many different kinds of flies including sand fly, tsetse fly, the deer fly etc. According to a paper published by the University of California Museum of Palaeontology, there are 120,000 types of flies that can bite both animals and humans. These bites can look like red bumps and tiny blisters.

4. Fire ants

Fire ants are dangerous and live in nests and moulds. If their nests are disturbed, these ants can be very risky. They are generally in swarms and would go upward while attacking. The best way to not get bitten is to make sure to stay away from these. The bites look like groups of red spots. Remember, one fire ant can bite multiple times.

5. Bed bugs

A bed bug generally causes an itchy rash, which looks like swollen red skin with dark red centres. These are also very itchy. However, not everyone gets disturbed when bitten by a bed bug. According to The University of Kentucky, almost 30 per cent of people donโ€™t even get to know when a bed big bites them.

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Close up of an itchy scalp
Head lice feed on the blood of humans and die if not given blood for 72 hours. Image courtesy: Adobe Stock

6. Lice bites

Lice bites just cause an itchy reaction. Both head lice and pubic lice feed on human blood. The lay their eggs as they go along. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, lice, both head and pubic die after 72 hours if they donโ€™t get any blood.

7. Wasp stings

Wasps are dangerous and it is important to keep your distance from these. A wasp bite becomes an itchy welt sooner than you know. Some of these can also cause an allergic reaction. Some wasps, such as bees and hornets have a stinger which they use for self defense. So, try not to annoy these tiny creatures. Usually a sting results in redness and swelling.

8. Spider bites

A spider bite would look like any other bug bite. It would result in a itchy bump on the skin. A widow spider bites may even lead to further symptoms such as cramping as well as nausea and tremors. Recluse spider bites result in fever and chills, and the bite are might turn dark purple.

Symptoms of a bad reaction to a bug bite

Symptoms of a severe reaction to a bug bite can depend on factors such as the type of bug and the personโ€™s immune response. Common signs include:

  • Significant swelling
  • Intense itching or pain
  • Hives or rash
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Dizziness or fainting.

These symptoms may indicate a potentially life-threatening allergic reaction, known as anaphylaxis, and will mostly require immediate medical attention. โ€œIt is important to note that not everyone will experience these symptoms, and some individuals may develop them gradually,โ€ explains Dr Kumbar.

Also Read: Save yourself from mosquito bites with these natural repellents and preventive tips

Which diseases can be caused by bug bites?

Bug bites can transmit a range of diseases depending on the type of bug and the region.

  • Malaria, transmitted by infected mosquitoes, can be severe and even fatal.
  • Dengue fever, also spread by mosquitoes, causes high fever, and can lead to severe complications.
  • Lyme disease, transmitted by infected ticks, can result in a range of symptoms including fever, headache, and joint pain.
  • West Nile virus, Zika virus, Chikungunya, Rocky Mountain can result in a fever.

How to diagnose a bug bite?

Diagnosing a bug bite would mean close examination of the bite area. The doctor will ask you how you are feeling after being bitten. He will check the size and colour of the bite. They also ask about what you were doing when you got the bite and if youโ€™ve had any similar reactions before. A blood test might also be conducted.

A woman itching her arm
While bug bites can cause intense itching, it is important to not itch as this can make the bite area worse. Image courtesy: Adobe Stock

What to do right after a bug bite?

First aid after a bug bite is important. These are the steps to follow:

  • Move away from the area where you have been bitten. This will prevent other bites and stings.
  • If there are any stingers, carefully remove these.
  • Wash the area with soap and water to ensure its clean.
  • Ice the area. The ice in a soft cloth, or dip the cloth in cold water, squeeze it and then apply on the bitten spot.
  • Elevate the arm of leg where the injury has happened.
  • Baking soda, calamine solution can be added to help the area feel better, and relieve the itch.
  • A painkiller can also be taken to relieve the pain. For the itch, anti-itch medication can be taken. A doctor can prescribe these for you.
  • If you notice any signs of infection, like redness, swelling, or pus, or if you have trouble breathing or feel dizzy, itโ€™s best to see a doctor.

Most bug bites will get better on their own with a little care at home. โ€œIf itโ€™s a poisonous bug and the bite looks odd, such as having a strange colour, oozing liquid, or forming blisters, itโ€™s crucial to seek medical attention immediately,โ€ says Dr Kumbar. These signs could indicate a more severe reaction or infection that requires professional treatment.

FAQs

Are bug bites harmful?

Bug bites are not really harmful most of the times, but they are uncomfortable. They will cause a lot of itching. However, there are some bites that can lead to allergic reactions and even transmit diseases.

How do bug bites go away?

Bug bites will usually disappear in a few days. However, by keeping the area clean, using cold compresses and applying anti-itch creams will help you feel better.

Should you itch a bug bite?

No! Donโ€™t itch the area. Itโ€™s best not to itch a bug bite because scratching can irritate the skin, increase inflammation, and raise the risk of infection. Apply a cold compress as this will numb the are and reduce swelling.



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