How to Treat a Swollen Insect Bite

Many of us hate bugs, especially the biting ones. It’s one thing to be pesky and disgusting and a general nuisance, but biting is just one step too far. Are you one of those people who feels like bugs have a personal vendetta against you? It might be hard for you to believe that some people don’t get bitten as frequently as you. Yeah, it’s not fair. It’s not our job to question the gods of bugs. We simply hear and obey.

Anyway, more to the point. If you’re reading this, you probably have an insect bite that you’re seeking treatment for. This article will give you information about just that. We’ll be discussing everything about insect bites: causes, symptoms, and even treatment, of course.

If, however, you’re in too much pain to patiently read all this information from the beginning, you can also skip right to the part where we actually discuss the treatment for swollen insect bites.

For those who want all the juicy details, let’s dive straight in.

Causes of Insect Bites

First of all, insects and bugs won’t just bite you on a whim or because they hate you, although you may not believe it. They actually bite you because you attacked them first (knowingly or unknowingly) or they’re hungry (like mosquitoes, ticks, bed bugs, etc.).

Most insect bites or stings are more of an act of defense than an attack. You probably provoked them by disturbing them or accidentally hitting their nest.

So, they bit or stung you to protect themselves and their nests or hives. That’s only fair, don’t you think? You might not have meant to disturb them, but there’s no way they could have known that. They’re not human, remember?

But defense isn’t the only reason all insects bite. Some insects bite you to make a meal out of you – a blood meal. They’re like miniature vampires. One example of an insect that does this is the mosquito.

Generally though, mosquito bites don’t usually pose a serious threat to their victims, unless that mosquito carries a pathogen. Apart from mosquitoes, there are other insects that bite to feast on our blood. These include lice, tsetse flies, deer flies, and some arachnids, like ticks.

If it’s any comfort, some insects actually die after stinging or biting, like the honey bee.

Symptoms of Insect Bites

On a good day, bug bites are nothing but an unnecessary nuisance. But let’s quickly take a look at the different symptoms that insect bites may present:

  • Redness,
  • Localized swelling,
  • Minor pain,
  • Itching, and/or
  • Blistering.

Mild symptoms like these usually disappear within a few days. You’ll usually see these after being bit by certain insects like mosquitoes, lice, chiggers, ticks, bed bugs, ants, biting flies, fleas, and some non-poisonous spiders.

Swollen insect bite on neck

Kwangmoozaa/Shutterstock.com

Severe Reactions to Insect Bites

Now, there are times when you might wish you had a simple case of swelling after an insect bite. Sometimes when the skin is broken, it can become infected. If this local infection becomes severe, it could lead to a condition called cellulitis. 

Another severe condition (which might leave you wishing for a simple swelling) happens when you’re allergic to the pest that bit or stung you. You might then face a severe reaction, referred to as anaphylaxis. You don’t want to experience that.

Severe reactions such as these usually happen after bites or stings from the following insects: scorpions, fire ants, yellow jackets, bees, some spiders, hornets, etc.

A severe reaction to an insect bite may also present other symptoms such as:

  • Hives,
  • Wheezing,
  • Shortness of breath,
  • Unconsciousness, and/or
  • Death (which can happen as quickly as within 30 minutes. Scary, but true.).

Why Do Insect Bites Swell?

You’ve probably wondered why insect bites swell. Well, here’s a quick summary of the whole matter. 

  1. Insects release their saliva into your skin when they bite you. 
  2. Your body mounts a defense against this saliva, which causes fluid to build up under the skin in the affected part of your body. 
  3. This fluid results in swelling, itchiness, and redness.

The same goes for insects that sting: the release of venom into the skin also causes the affected area to swell, get itchy, and form a weal (a red mark). Although the swollen area might be painful, insect bites are generally harmless – except when they’re not. 

Most of the time, it won’t take more than a few awkward days of mild pain and itching for the swelling to disappear.

Treatment for Swelling Insect Bites

First, look for and remove any stingers, if there are any. The honey bee leaves its stinger behind, but many insects simply bite. Then, wash the bite or sting site with soap and water.

You want to put an ice pack on the bitten or stung area. Make sure that you put a cloth on your skin before the ice pack to protect your skin. If you don’t have an ice pack, use a cool, wet rag instead. However, make sure that you only leave the ice on your skin for 15 to 20 minutes at a time. This will ensure that blood continues to circulate in the affected area.

Don’t scratch.

To reduce the swelling, elevate the bitten area so that it’s above your heart.

Use a nonprescription drug to help you relieve redness, itching, and, of course, swelling. Ensure that you follow the precautions for using a nonprescription medication before taking any.

  • Oral antihistamines like Chlor-Trimeton and Benadryl help to relieve all three symptoms mentioned above. Be careful when administering these to a child. In fact, if you haven’t checked with your doctor, don’t give antihistamines to a child.
  • A local anesthetic spray containing benzocaine, like Solarcaine, can also help to relieve pain. However, if you notice any reactions to the spray, please stop using it.
  • There are also some topical applications that can work. One example is calamine lotion, which can help to relieve redness and itching when applied to the skin. 

Conclusion

Keep in mind that the best way to treat an insect bite is to avoid being bitten in the first place.

If you’re going to a place where you know there will be lots of biting bugs, take precautions! Wearing clothes that cover you properly. Avoid wearing strong scents. You should probably take an insect repellent with you, too.

But then again, there are always times when bites just happen. Such is life, after all. But now, you know what to do when life happens.

2 Comments

Presley Hudson

This bug bite relief was soooooo helpful

Jane Lomont

That was helpful information about cellulitis — which I had a few years ago and was hospitalized. Good to know that it occurs when a bite becomes infected. Not the case with me now. I got an insect bite outdoors that, as time goes on, the swelling has spread half way up my arm and is red. However, yesterday the top of the arm that was red then is “calmer” and less red today. Today it’s the inside, white (now pink) part of the arm that has the swelling. So,
that gives me hope that it will fade away in a day or two.

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