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Yellow Jacket

Prevent and relieve insect bites and stings

This summer, prevent insect bites and learn what to do if you end up with a bite or sting despite your best efforts.

Most people have some type of reaction when bitten or stung by an insect. This often includes swelling, redness, and itching confined to the area of the bite or sting. David Tanner, M.D., an allergy and immunology specialist at Piedmont, says the most common insect bites are from mosquitoes, ticks, black flies, horse flies and chiggers, which seem to love the South!

Dr. Tanner explains that the itching caused by these pesky bugs is actually a reaction your body is having to the protein found in the insect’s saliva. Most of these bites are not dangerous, they just feel uncomfortable. However, there are precautions you can take to help prevent any bites or stings this season as bugs come out in full force.

How to prevent bug bites and bee stings

  • Wear shoes outdoors, but avoid open-toe footwear.

  • Do not wear perfumes, scented products, or bright clothing.

  • Walk cautiously in unknown territory, such as the woods or a field, and keep an eye out for nests.

  • Keep picnic food covered.

  • Cover soft drink cans or other sugary beverages after opening them. 

  • Make sure outdoor trashcans are covered and secured. Be cautious around open trashcans, especially if they might contain food scraps or anything that might attract insects.

  • Wear insect repellent whenever you plan to spend prolonged periods outdoors.

How to relieve bug bites and bee stings

First, get away from the offending insect. If applicable, make sure the stinger isn’t still in your skin by gently scraping the skin with a credit card. Then try the following treatments to reduce swelling, itching and discomfort:

  • Wrap ice in a towel and hold it on the area a few times a day for 15 to 20 minutes.

  • Apply a topical steroid cream directly to the sting or bite. Mild versions can be found in the drugstore or grocery store, while stronger varieties can be prescribed by your physician. Apply once or twice a day for a few days to control inflammation.

  • A few hours after the bite or sting, elevate the area where you have the sting (e.g., if you have bites on your leg, consider propping it up on a few pillows when sitting on the couch).

  • Take an over-the-counter antihistamine.

  • During this time, it is also important not to scratch itchy areas as this can lead to infection.

If you experience larger areas of swelling, hives or trouble breathing, seek emergency medical care. It is not common, but some people are allergic to insect stings, especially those from hornets, yellow jackets, wasps, bees and fire ants.

“An anaphylactic reaction is not common, but is very serious,” says Dr. Tanner. “Once you have any of these symptoms, from then on it is important to carry an EpiPen and seek specialty care to identify to which insects you are allergic.”

Concerned about allergic reactions? Find an allergist near you.

Need to make an appointment with a Piedmont physician? Save time, book online.

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