Insect Bite

General or Other | General Practice | Insect Bite (Symptom)


Stings and bites from insects are common. They often result in redness and swelling in the injured area. Sometimes a sting can cause a life-threatening allergic reaction.

The response to a sting or bite from insects is variable and depends on a variety of factors. Most bites and stings result in pain, swelling, redness, and itching to the affected area. The skin may be broken and become infected if the bite area is scratched. If not treated properly, these local infections may become severe and cause a condition known as cellulitis.

A severe reaction beyond the immediate area of the sting if a person is allergic to the bite or sting may be experienced. This is known as anaphylaxis. Symptoms of a severe reaction include hives, wheezing, shortness of breath, unconsciousness, and even death within 30 minutes.

A sting on the tongue may cause throat swelling and death because of airway obstruction.

Stings from large hornets or multiple (hundreds or thousands) bee stings have been rarely reported to cause muscle breakdown and kidney failure. Bites from a fire ant typically produce a pustule, or a pimple-like sore, that is extremely itchy and painful.

Diagnosis and Treatment

Most insect bites and stings cause itching and swelling that usually clears up within several hours. Minor bites and stings can be treated by: washing the affected area with soap and water; placing a cold compress (a flannel or cloth cooled with cold water) over the affected area to reduce swelling; not scratching the area because it can become infected (keep children's fingernails short and clean). If local swelling is severe, a General Practitioner should be consulted.