Insect bites: When should you see a doctor?

We can get many different insect bites during the summer months. When should we be concerned and see a doctor?

In Quebec, few insect bites are dangerous. Mosquitoes, biting midges, deer flies and horse flies are unpleasant but do not transmit diseases or cause allergic reactions. Applying cold compresses can help relieve the pain and swelling of the insect bite.

Stings from the hymenoptera species (bees, wasps, hornets, bumblebees) are very painful and can cause a severe allergic reaction in some people. These bites sometimes cause redness and localized swelling that can spread to a large area (several centimetres) around the bite. This reaction is not dangerous if it does not come with other symptoms (see further). You can apply cold compresses to reduce the swelling or take an oral antihistamine. Your pharmacist can help you choose the most appropriate product for your situation.

The following symptoms signal a severe reaction that can evolve to the point of being life-threatening: swelling of the mouth, tongue or throat, difficulty breathing, heart palpitations, skin rash, weakness, dizziness, loss of consciousness. If such symptoms occur, immediately call 911 or head to the nearest hospital.

People who know they are allergic to these insect bites must always carry at least one epinephrine auto-injector. The device must be used as soon as early signs of a severe reaction develop, and the individual must head to the hospital even if all symptoms have disappeared.

Lyme disease is caused by a bacteria transmitted to humans during a bite by an infected tick. Tick bites often go unnoticed and symptoms may appear 3 to 30 days after the bite. In most cases, “bull’s eye” redness develops around the bite (usually a dark rim with a pale centre) and may be accompanied by fever, fatigue, headaches, neck stiffness and muscle pain. It’s important to consult a physician if you experience any of these symptoms. Lyme disease is treated with antibiotics.

Since an ounce of prevention is always best, protect yourself from insect and tick bites by wearing light-coloured, loose-fitting, long clothing and by using an insect repellant. When eating outdoors, cover your food and promptly wipe up any spills in order to avoid attracting wasps. If you are allergic to hymenoptera bites, regularly check the expiration date on your epinephrine auto-injectors and make sure that your entourage knows how to use them.

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