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Insect Bites (cont.)

When to Seek Medical Care for an Insect Bite

Hives are the most common systemic symptom. They appear as irregular, raised, red blotchy areas on the skin and are very itchy. If hives are the only systemic symptom present, they are often treated at home with an antihistamine but if other symptoms such as shortness of breath and/or other symptoms listed below occur, 911 should be called.

If you start to experience symptoms that are not just at the site of the bite or sting (or if you have a history of severe reactions), seek medical attention immediately. These symptoms (systemic symptoms affect the whole body) may progress to fatal anaphylactic shock.

If the bite appears infected (redness with or without pus, warmth, fever, or a red streak that spreads toward the body), see a doctor immediately.

If you don't know what bit or stung you, it is important to keep watching the area closely to be sure it does not become infected. Call your doctor if there is an open or ulcerating wound, which may suggest a poisonous spider bite.

People who have a history of severe reactions should go to the nearest hospital's emergency department after a bite or sting if they experience any symptoms. Those who have no history of severe reactions should also go to the emergency department immediately or call 911 if they have any of the following symptoms:

  • Wheezing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain or tightness
  • Sensation of the throat closing or difficulty speaking or swallowing
  • Faintness or weakness
  • Infection (If the wound appears infected and you are not able to reach your doctor, seek care at a hospital.)

Insect Bites Diagnosis

The diagnosis of a reaction to a bite or sting is usually obvious from the history. The doctor will perform a physical examination to look for effects of the bite or sting on various parts of the body. If you can safely provide an example of what bit or stung you, it can be very helpful to the medical caregiver to determine both diagnosis and treatment. Examination of the skin, respiratory system, cardiovascular system, and oral cavity are particularly important to determine both diagnosis and treatments.

To identify the disease that is transmitted by biting or stinging bugs or insects, blood tests are usually required; once the definitive diagnosis is made (for example, Lyme disease, West Nile virus or malaria), specific treatments then can be started.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 6/1/2016

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