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Got a Bug Bite? When to See a Doctor

As the weather heats up for spring and summer, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to enjoy the great outdoors. Unfortunately, April showers also bring showers of bugs. From spiders to mosquitoes, these tiny critters can ruin a good picnic and derail your plans for adventure if you let them. You may be tempted to ignore the occasional bite or sting, but there are reasons to get your insect bite checked out by a doctor. How can you tell what warrants a doctor’s visit? Here are few tips for keeping that sting in check.

Proactive Measures

In the U.S., common insects and arachnids include spiders, bed bugs, fleas, fire ants, hornets, bees, ticks and mosquitoes, among others. Depending on where you live, you may be more susceptible to certain types of stings or bites. Those in areas with abundant water, for instance, will likely face a higher threat from mosquitoes, which are attracted to wetter areas. To lower your risk of developing a life-threatening reaction to bug bites, take some precautions:

  • Cover up exposed skin as much as possible, including a hat or light scarf to protect your head and neck.
  • Use a bug spray with DEET as the active ingredient. Despite the controversial nature of DEET, it’s the only scientifically proven ingredient known to ward off buzzing threats.

When It’s Time to See a Doctor

Most insect bites and stings require only time and a bit of topical ointment, such as hydrocortisone cream, to heal. Itching, mild redness and slight swelling are common symptoms that typically don’t require additional care. But you should pay close attention to bites that swell more than slightly, change colors, start oozing pus or cause other symptoms, including pain. These are abnormal reactions, and you should see a dermatologist to rule out an underlying cause.

It’s important to check with a doctor if your bite or sting gets worse because certain insects carry serious, sometimes fatal, diseases. Mosquitoes carry malaria, dengue fever and the West Nile virus while ticks can carry Lyme disease. If you get stung or bitten while traveling in certain parts of the world, especially parts affected by the Zika virus, you should also check with your dermatologist just to be safe.

Emergency Symptoms

Even if your symptoms get worse, chances are good that you’ll be fine with antihistamines and topical care, but you might be allergic to a particular insect without knowing it. In this case, your symptoms warrant a trip to the emergency department. Emergency symptoms include:

  • Trouble breathing or feeling like your throat is closing
  • Chest pain or a racing heartbeat that lasts longer than a few minutes
  • Vomiting, dizziness or a headache
  • Swollen facial areas, including lips and tongue

Certain diseases have specific symptoms to watch for. A red rash in the shape of a donut or target could indicate Lyme disease while a fever combined with a red or black spotty rash may indicate Rocky Mountain spotted fever. If in doubt, get the bite checked out.



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