While summer is winding down, bug season is still in full swing. While most bug bites will cause only mild itching or discomfort for a few days, others can have more serious reactions and may need medical treatment. Here is some information about some of the most common bugs you may encounter and what to do if they bite.
Mosquitos are everywhere but prefer areas with standing water and bushes/trees, and they are usually more active in the afternoon and evening. Within a few minutes to a few hours after the bite, most people will develop a red, itchy bump where they were bitten. This is caused by a reaction to proteins in the mosquito’s saliva. Some people are more sensitive to this than others, and so develop larger, more itchy bumps at the site of the bite. You can apply over the counter anti-itch cream or ice to help with itching. Most mosquito bites will resolve within a few days to a week. Mosquitos can carry West Nile Virus, which can cause fever, headache, nausea/vomiting, body aches, and changes in mental status. If you have any of these symptoms, seek medical help right away.
Fire ants are usually found in grassy areas. Unlike other ants, fire ants become very aggressive if their nest is disturbed. If you step on their nest, or get too close, fire ants will sting repeatedly. The initial sting is painful, and it is followed shortly by a red bump which usually develops a blister on top. These hurt and itch, and usually last for about a week. You can apply over the counter steroid cream (such as hydrocortisone) or antihistamine cream (such as Benadryl cream), aloe vera, or witch hazel to help with the itching and pain. Some people can develop life threatening allergic reactions to fire ant stings; so if you develop difficulty breathing, difficulty swallowing, nausea, or dizziness after being stung, seek medical help right away.
There are many different spiders in our area, but most won’t bite unless disturbed. Most spider bites will only cause mild irritation at the site of the bite, but the brown recluse and black widow spiders can cause more serious illness. Brown recluse spiders are brown/tan and have a violin-shaped patch on their back, while black widow spiders are black with a red hourglass or line of red dots on their abdomen. Many brown recluse and black widow spider bites will result in only a local skin reaction, which can be very painful. These spider bites can cause nausea/vomiting and body aches/muscle spasms. In more rare instances, they can cause organ failure or death. If you believe you have been bitten by a brown recluse or black widow, wash the wound with warm soapy water, elevated the wound, and contact your medical provider. If you develop any symptoms in addition to redness and swelling at the site of the bite, go to an urgent care or emergency room right away.
With any bug bite, wash the bite thoroughly and do your best to keep it clean. Try not to scratch, as this will cause breaks in the skin which can lead to infection. If the bite is getting more swollen, red, or painful, or begins draining pus, get evaluated by a medical professional.
The best way to deal with bug bites is to prevent them from happening. Use insect repellent with 20-30% DEET on exposed skin and clothing, wear long sleeves and pants when able, and make sure to clean cool, dark, cluttered areas which are perfect homes for spiders.
Dr. Emerick is a board certified Family Physician who sees patients of all ages at Lone Star Family Health Center, a non-profit 501©3 Federally Qualified Health Center operating facilities in Conroe, Spring, Willis, Grangerland, and Huntsville, and serving as home to a fully integrated Family Medicine Residency Program to increase the number of Family Medicine physicians for Texas and our community.