Skincare Solutions for Bug Bites and Stings

With summer in full swing and outdoor activities on the rise, it is more important than ever to protect and treat our skin appropriately. In addition to our usual concerns of protecting skin from damaging ultraviolet rays, we need to be aware of other more terrestrial threats that our skin may encounter during our time spent outdoors. Protecting against insect bites and stings is important to both our skin’s and our general health. We all know that bug bites can be itchy and annoying, and worse, stings can be quite painful, but oftentimes we may be exposed to insects that can spread infection and disease as well.

When we think about summer insect bites, most of us will imagine itchy mosquito bites. These bites can be bothersome and usually harmless. The itching from mosquito bites can be treated with oral anti-histamine such as Benadryl (diphenhydramine) or with over-the counter cortisone cream. Dr. Taub says that applying clear nail polish to the bites stops the itching. However, especially for the very young or elderly, mosquitoes may spread dangerous infection due to West Nile virus. Most healthy people will be relatively unaffected by this virus, but clinically significant infection may occur in those with weakened immunity. In some cases, West Nile viral infection can lead to hospitalization and in rare cases even death. In addition, mosquito bites that are scratched excessively can lead to secondary bacterial infection, especially in children.

Tick bites are another frequent summer threat. Unlike mosquitoes, ticks “latch-on” to us for as long as several days. Most tick bites are harmless, but some ticks may spread diseases. For example, local deer ticks (see photo inset) can spread Lyme disease to humans. In addition, travelers to Western states are at risk for developing Rocky Mountain spotted fever from tick bites. Ticks may be as small as a sesame seed to as large as a small pea. It is important to search for ticks on the skin and scalp after spending time outdoors in grassy or wooded areas. Usually tick bites are painless and not noticed by the victim. After time spent outdoors, it is important to check for ticks that may have latched on to the unsuspecting host. Pay extra attention to skin-fold areas such as behind the knee, the groin area and the underarm, and don’t forget to check the scalp.

Ticks can be removed by grasping the head with tweezers and pulling straight away from the skin. Be sure not to leave any part of the tick in the skin. If you need assistance with tick removal, call Advanced Dermatology for an urgent-care visit and you will be seen for a same-day appointment. If someone has a red rash around a tick bite or experiences fever, muscle or joint aches, rashes, or flu-like symptoms, it is very important to seek medical attention to evaluate for possible infection.

Insect stings are another common summer threat to our skin. Unlike bites, which give an insect a meal, stings are a defensive or offensive mechanism for an insect. Bees, wasps, and ants cause most insect stings in the United States. Insect stings can be quite painful and cause a local or systemic reaction. Some people can have life-threatening reactions to insect stings. Such individuals should have an epinephrine auto-injector available when outdoors in the summer months. Fortunately, most victims of insect stings can use cortisone creams or take pain medications and symptoms should resolve within hours to a couple of days.

As with many things in healthcare, prevention has a much higher value than treatment. Preventing insect bites and stings can best be achieved by using insect repellents containing DEET. The higher the percentage of DEET in the repellent, the longer it will be effective. Repellent may be applied to both skin and clothing, and special care should be exercised to avoid contact with the eyes or inhalation of the spray.