Insect bites and stings
Insect bites and stings can cause an immediate skin reaction. The bite from fire ants and the sting from bees, wasps, and hornets are most often painful. Bites caused by mosquitoes, fleas, and mites are more likely to cause itching than pain.
Insect and spider bites cause more deaths from venom reactions than bites from snakes.
Bee sting; Bites - insects, bees, and spiders; Black widow spider bite; Brown recluse bite; Flea bite; Honey bee or hornet sting; Lice bites; Mite bite; Scorpion bite; Spider bite; Wasp sting; Yellow jacket sting
In most cases, bites and stings can be easily treated at home.
Some people have extreme reactions that require immediate treatment to prevent death.
Certain spider bites, such as the black widow or brown recluse, can cause serious illness or death. Most spider bites are harmless. If possible, bring the insect or spider that bit you with you when you go for treatment so it can be identified.
Symptoms depend on the type of bite or sting. They may include:
Some people have severe, life-threatening reactions to bee stings or insect bites. This is called anaphylactic shock. This condition can occur very quickly and lead to rapid death if not treated quickly.
Symptoms of anaphylaxis can occur quickly and affect the whole body. They include:
For severe reactions, first check the person's airways and breathing. If necessary, call 911 and begin rescue breathing and CPR. Then, follow these steps:
General steps for most bites and stings:
Remove the stinger by scraping the back of a credit card or other straight-edged object across the stinger. Do not use tweezers -- these may squeeze the venom sac and increase the amount of venom released.
Wash the site thoroughly with soap and water. Then, follow these steps:
Use the following precautions:
When to Contact a Medical Professional
Call 911 or your local emergency number if someone with a sting has the following symptoms:
If you had a severe, bodywide reaction to a bee sting, your provider should send you to an allergist for skin testing and therapy. You should receive an emergency kit to carry with you wherever you go.
You can help prevent insect bites and stings by doing the following:
Boyer LV, Binford GJ, Degan JA. Spider bites. In: Auerbach PS, Cushing TA, Harris NS, eds. Auerbach's Wilderness Medicine. 7th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2017:chap 43.
Elston DM. Arthropods and leeches. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman-Cecil Medicine. 25th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 359.
Otten EJ. Venomous animal injuries. In: Walls RM, Hockberger RS, Gausche-Hill M, eds. Rosen's Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2018:chap 55.
Suchard JR. Scorpion envenomation. In: Auerbach PS, Cushing TA, Harris NS, eds. Auerbach's Wilderness Medicine. 7th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2017:chap 44.
Review Date: 10/16/2017
Reviewed By: Jesse Borke, MD, FACEP, FAAEM, Attending Physician at FDR Medical Services/Millard Fillmore Suburban Hospital, Buffalo, NY. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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