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General Information

DEFINITION--Skin eruptions and other symptoms caused by insect bites or stings. The victim often doesn't remember being bitten or stung.


  • Skin on any part of the body.
  • Lymph glands in the neck, armpit, groin or elbow.

SEX OR AGE MOST AFFECTED--Both sexes; all ages.


Skin reactions:

  • Red lumps in the skin. The lumps usually appear within minutes after the bite or sting, but some don't appear for 6 to 12 hours.
  • A toxic reaction with pain, such as from bee stings.
  • A toxic reaction with itching due to the body's release of histamine at the bite site, such as from mosquitoes.

Systemic reactions:

  • Nausea or vomiting; headache; fever; dizzi-ness; lightheadedness; swelling; convulsions.

Allergic reactions:

  • Itching eyes; facial flushing; dry cough; wheezing; chest/throat constriction.

CAUSES--Bites or stings from mosquitoes, fleas, chiggers, bedbugs, ants, spiders, bees, scorpions and other insects.


  • Areas with heavy insect infestations.
  • Warm weather in spring and summer.
  • Lack of protective measures.
  • Perfumes, colognes.
  • Previous sensitization.


  • After identifying the cause, remove it if possible. Treat animals for fleas and exterminate the house or kennel.
  • If you cannot avoid exposure, apply insect repellents with diethyltoluamide (DEET).
  • Wear protective clothing (long sleeves and long pants in areas of risk, gloves for yardwork).

What To Expect

DIAGNOSTIC MEASURES-- Medical history and physical exam by a doctor (sometimes).


  • Self-care.
  • Doctor's treatment (sometimes).


  • Secondary bacterial infection at the site of the bite. This may cause swollen lymph glands in the neck, armpit, groin or elbow.
  • Anaphylaxis (for hypersensitive persons). See Anaphylaxis in Illness section.
  • Scarring.

PROBABLE OUTCOME--Most troublesome symptoms disappear in 2 to 3 days, but scratching may prolong symptoms for several weeks. Treatment helps but it doesn't cure quickly.

How To Treat


  • Give first-aid and emergency services in severe reactions.
  • Insect bites or stings: For bee, wasp, yellow-jacket or hornet stings, remove stinger. (Scrape it out. Don't use tweezers.) Wash the area, then rub a paste of meat tenderizer and water into the site. For fleas, gnats and mosquitoes, wash the area with soap and water, apply cool compress. For ant bites rub bite with ammonia; repeat as often as necessary. For spider or scorpion bites, capture the insect if possible, wash the wound, apply ice pack and seek medical attention. For ticks and mites, apply a petroleum product until the animal withdraws or pick it off with sterilized tweezers. Wash wound with soap and water.
  • If you have had anaphylaxis (severe allergic reaction) following an insect bite, carry an anaphylaxis kit to treat it in the future.

MEDICATION--For minor discomfort, you may use: Non-prescription oral antihistamines to decrease itching. Non-prescription topical steroid preparations to reduce inflammation and decrease itching. Use according to label directions. For face and groin, use only low-potency steroid products without fluorine.

ACTIVITY--No restrictions.

DIET--No special diet.

Call Your Doctor If

  • You have symptoms of anaphylaxis. This is an emergency!
  • Self-care does not relieve symptoms, or symptoms don't improve after 2 to 3 days of medical treatment.
  • A bitten area becomes red, swollen, warm and tender, indicating infection.
  • Temperature rises to 101F (38.3C).
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