The Best Way to Treat Every Type of Bug Bite

Bug bites seem to pack a whole lot of pain and itchiness for such a tiny little injury. Prep for bug season by stocking up on just the right products to soothe every welt that comes your way.

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Bee or wasp stings

You need to act fast to minimize the pain from a wasp or bee sting. Wasps don’t lose their stinger when they strike, which means they can sting you repeatedly. Bees, on the other hand, do leave their stinger behind. While bees can’t sting multiple times, that stinger can continue to inject venom into the injury. “It’s important to remove the stinger right away to decrease the amount of venom injected and reduce the risk of a foreign body reaction, although these are rare,” says Heather Hawthorne, MD, a Doctor on Demand physician in the Los Angeles area. “Be sure to wash the area with soap and water, and then quickly apply an ice pack for 20 minutes to reduce pain and swelling.” Over-the-counter ibuprofen such as Advil is usually adequate to control the pain, swelling, and redness if needed. Topical antihistamines, such as Benadryl Extra Strength Itch Relief Stick, work well to control any itching that occurs. It’s important to watch for signs of a secondary bacterial skin infection, which can happen after any type of insect sting or bite. Symptoms may include streaking redness, pus draining from the site, or worsening pain, and these usually show up three to five days after the sting. These symptoms need medical attention. Check out these tips that’ll help you avoid getting bit or stung in the first place.

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Tick insect on hand
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Tick bites

Ticks are known to spread serious illnesses like Lyme disease. The first course of action is to remove the tick with a pair of tweezers and save it in an alcohol-filled container to show your doctor, according to the Mayo Clinic. The faster you remove the tick, the less likely it is that it will be able to transmit disease-causing germs. Treat the bite with alcohol, and keep an eye out for a bullseye-shaped rash or flu-like symptoms, which could indicate Lyme disease. And be sure to pick up a good pair of tweezers. Watch out for these symptoms of Lyme disease you might ignore.

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The Common Bed Bug, Cimex lectularius, parasite, Czech Republic
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Bedbug bites

If you end up with a zigzag pattern of welts on your body, it could be the work of bedbugs. According to the American Academy of Dermatology,washing with soap and water and using an over-the-counter corticosteroid cream could help with the worst of it, though if you develop an infection or an allergic reaction to the bites, you might require prescription intervention with antibiotics or antihistamines. Learn the secrets to keeping bedbugs at bay.

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Mosquito sucked blood on human skin. Season of mosquitoes
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Mosquito bites

If you’re out and about in the evening, it seems to be pretty impossible to avoid getting one of these itchy red welts. But if you’re pretty tasty to mosquitoes, research suggests that taking a little Zyrtec could help reduce the sting of their bites. “Over-the-counter products with pramoxine, such as Sarna Sensitive lotion, work well to control itching,” Dr. Hawthorne says. Learn the reason you should never scratch a bug bite.

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Close up macro of small sand fly gnat on green leaf
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Sandfly bites

“Sandflies may be tiny, but their bites have a mighty impact, causing annoying pain and itching,” Dr. Hawthorne says. “Ice is a great numbing agent for this type of pain. Rub an ice cube in a circular motion over the bite several times a day to control the pain. Use antihistamines to control itching.” You can also try a reusable ice pack.

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pholcidae, house spider
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Spider bites

Most spider bites just create a little pain and swelling that can be treated with a cold compress and over-the-counter pain meds such as ibuprofen. If you’ve been bitten by a brown recluse spider or black widow spider, or you experience abdominal cramping or extreme pain at the bite, seek emergency care. Get the scoop on how to tell different bug bites apart.

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Small dog cat flea trying to bite on human skin

Flea bites

“All insect bites and stings trigger a similar type of inflammatory response,” Dr. Hawthorne says. “So regardless of what gets you, ibuprofen and ice are great for pain and swelling, while antihistamines like Benadryl or Zyrtec usually do a good job of controlling any itch. Although most local reactions go away without any treatment, it’s important to watch for symptoms of severe allergic reactions and bacterial skin infections which require medical treatment.” (Avoid getting bitten altogether by making sure you stock up on these flea prevention products.)

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closeup of a red ant on a branch
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Fire ant bites

These fierce ants can swarm and leave blistered red bites in their path. In addition to the typical ice, antihistamine, and ibuprofen protocol, Texas A&M University entomologist Bastiaan M. Drees, PhD, recommends keeping some bleach on hand: You can treat the area with a mixture of half-bleach and half-water to help soothe the bites. Next, check out the bug bite symptoms you should never ignore.

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Medically reviewed by Oscar H. Cingolani, MD, on November 18, 2019

Lisa Milbrand
Lisa Milbrand is a freelance writer specializing in covering food, health, fitness, and other lifestyle topics for The Healthy and other major websites and publications.