Outdoor days are usually pleasant. Sometimes those beautiful days are ruined by an insect bite. Regardless of the insect that bites you, the following article will help you understand what to do if you experience a reaction.
Recognize the types of stings
Most mosquito bites are harmless. Usually, these insects cause mild to moderate itching. However, mosquitoes can be vectors of some more serious diseases such as the West Nile virus or malaria (in countries more exotic than ours).
They are mainly present in June and July and they have the ability to sting through clothing.
Bee stings are very painful. These insects can leave their stinger in the skin. The affected area becomes red and swollen. The diameter of the redness can be pretty impressive and can measure more than 10 cm.
Wasps can become aggressive, especially when they are near our food. Their sting causes sudden and intense pain. Unlike bees, wasps do not leave their stinger in the skin. Therefore, they can sting repeatedly.
Ticks are also insects that can be problematic, as they can carry Lyme disease. The most common symptom is a rash on the skin. It appears at the site of the bite, most often on the thighs, groin, armpits or torso. The redness becomes more intense as days go by and spreads rapidly to reach more than 5 centimetres. The red spot often looks like a target.
Black flies and midges
Black flies and midges can cause many of the same sores as mosquitoes, but they may be more painful and swollen. These sores are sometimes more likely to become infected.
Black flies are especially fond of areas where there are a lot of coniferous trees. Deep woods enthusiasts must deal with this insect until the month of September. It is smaller than mosquitoes and is able to sneak into clothing. They have a predilection for the more shaded areas of the body, such as behind the ears, on the neck and on the ankles.
Biting midges (also called “no-see-ums” or sand flies) are known for the burning sensation that follows their bite. They are present from the end of May to July, during which time they are active 24 hours a day, with a remarkable energy surge in late afternoon. While they are too small to bite through clothing, their small size allows them to pass through screens.
Deer and horse flies
Deer and horse flies can cause red, swollen and painful bites. They may take longer to heal. There is a higher risk of infection.
Despite their flirtatious appearance, ladybugs can also bite; however, their bites are harmless.
How to treat a bug bite
Fortunately, insect bites are usually mild. They usually cause local swelling or blistering, itching or a burning sensation. Bites on the eyelids often cause more swelling. Symptoms naturally disappear within a few hours or days. Most insect bites can be treated at home.
- Wash the site with soap and water. Avoid alcohol or peroxide.
- You can apply ice wrapped in a damp cloth to the site of the bite to reduce inflammation and itching.
- Avoid scratching.
- If blisters appear, do not pierce them, as this may increase the risk of infection.
- Several products are also available on the market to relieve the various symptoms: analgesics, calamine lotions, antihistamines and skin antiseptics. Your pharmacist will be able to guide you toward the right solution depending on the bite.
- Taking a bath with baking soda can also reduce itching.
If the insect that stung you is a bee
- Remove the stinger quickly to prevent further spread of the venom. To remove it, you can scrape the skin with your fingernail or a plastic card. It is best to avoid using tweezers to remove the stinger, as these may crush the stinger and increase the amount of venom that is released.
If you find a tick on your skin
- Use tweezers to remove the entire tick, without crushing the tick.
- Keep the tick (dead or alive) in a clean, dry, rigid container.
- If the tick has been in the skin for more than 24 hours, seek prompt medical attention and bring the tick with you. A lab analysis may be necessary.
- Watch for symptoms of Lyme disease. For more information, visit Quebec.ca.
When should you consult a healthcare professional?
Severe allergic reaction to a sting
Anaphylactic shock, a rarer and potentially fatal condition, occurs when there is a significant allergy to insect venom. It is estimated that less than 1% of the population has this condition, which is a medical emergency.
It is essential to know how to recognize this type of reaction so that you can react quickly and appropriately. Symptoms of anaphylactic shock include restlessness, severe itching, a generalized rash, facial swelling, a drop in blood pressure and a rapid heart rate.
If left untreated, anaphylactic shock can be fatal within 5 to 15 minutes. For this reason, people who have had a severe reaction to an insect sting should have an epinephrine auto-injector (e.g., Epipen®) on hand at all times. The allergic person and those around him or her must know how to administer this product. If anaphylactic shock occurs, it will be too late to read the product label.
Other cases of consultation
If you have been bitten by a tick and it has remained attached for more than 24 hours, a consultation with a health care professional is necessary.
It is also vital to consult if:
- Symptoms of the sting persist for more than 2 or 3 days, without any improvement or if, on the contrary, the symptoms worsen
- Greenish fluid (pus) comes out of the bite
- Fever or a decrease in general health occur
An emergency consultation (9-1-1) is necessary if you:
- Have a severe allergic reaction occurs
- Experience breathing difficulties
- Notice a drastic change in your heart rate
- Lose consciousness
- Need an epinephrine auto-injector
- Experience no improvement after an epinephrine auto-injector
How to prevent insect bites
The best way to prevent bites is to avoid bugs. Here are some practical tips to help you do that:
- Avoid areas with standing water
- When hiking, stay on the trails
- Cover your drinks and food
- Choose light-coloured clothing
- Wear long clothes, closed shoes and a hat
- Put your sweater inside your pants and your socks over your pants (even if it's not the stylish look you want!)
- Avoid scented products
- Use a mosquito repellent. Be careful; if you also apply sunscreen, it is essential to apply the sunscreen about 20 minutes BEFORE the insect repellent.
- Make sure screens on doors and windows are intact
Bugs shouldn't stop you from enjoying summer. You just need to know how to prevent them from being a nuisance and what to do if you are bitten. Have fun outdoors!