Bug Bites, Ticks & Mosquitoes: How to prevent and care for bites

Although most bug bites are harmless, some can spread dangerous diseases like Zika Virus, Dengue, Lyme Disease, and Malaria. Particularly if you’re visiting areas with known insect-borne diseases, it’s important to take steps to reduce your risk.

To help prevent bug bites, dermatologists recommend the following tips:

  1. Use insect repellent. To protect against mosquitoes, ticks and other bugs, we recommend you pre-treat outer layers of clothing (long-sleeved shirts & pants, hats, sneakers, shoes, seams) with insect repellent that contains 20 to 30 percent DEET or one with the active ingredient Permethrin. Follow the directions carefully and allow the clothes to dry for at least two hours before wearing them. We do not recommend applying insect repellant directly onto your skin as it can cause irritation. Do not use sunscreen that contains insect repellent.
  2. Wear appropriate clothing. If you know you’re going to be out at night or hiking in a densely wooded area dress appropriately to prevent bug bites. Cover exposed skin as much as possible by wearing long-sleeved shirts, pants, socks and closed shoes instead of sandals – once again, treat them with DEET or one with the active ingredient Permethrin. For additional protection, pull your socks up over your pants and tuck your shirt into your pants.
  3. Use bed nets. When sleeping in the great outdoors, use bed nets to protect against mosquitoes. Look for one that has been pre-treated with pyrethroid insecticide. If it doesn’t reach the floor, tuck it under the mattress for maximum protection.
  4. Pay attention to outbreaks. Check the CDC Travel Health Notices website and heed travel warnings and recommendations.

Sometimes, despite one’s greatest efforts, bug bites still happen. Fortunately, most bug bites and stings can be safely treated at home. To treat bug bites and stings at home, dermatologists recommend the following tips:

  1. For painful bites, such as a bee sting, take an over-the-counter painkiller, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen. Always follow the directions on the label and use the correct dose.
  2. For bites that itch, apply an ice pack or an over-the-counter anti-itch cream, such as hydrocortisone. Another option is to take an over-the-counter oral antihistamine.
  3. To reduce swelling, apply an ice pack to the bite.

Although most bug bites and stings are harmless, some can be dangerous. This is especially true if you are allergic to the bug’s venom, or if the bug is carrying a disease. Here in the United States, it’s common to experience a bite or sting from the following types of bugs:

  • Mosquitoes
  • Fleas
  • Bedbugs
  • Biting flies
  • Mites
  • Bees, wasps and hornets
  • Spiders
  • Ticks

Most bug bites and stings can be safely treated at home with topical medication, such as hydrocortisone cream or ointment, or an oral antihistamine to reduce the itch. However, sometimes a bug bite or sting could turn into something serious – particularly if you have been bitten or stung by many insects at the same time.

Go to the emergency room immediately if you experience any of the following symptoms after a bug bite or sting:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • The sensation that your throat is closing
  • Swollen lips, tongue or face
  • Chest pain
  • A racing heartbeat that lasts more than a few minutes
  • Dizziness
  • Vomiting
  • A headache
  • A red, donut-shaped rash that develops after a tick bite: This could be a sign of Lyme disease, which should be treated with antibiotics.
  • A fever with a red or black, spotty rash that spreads: This could be a sign of Rocky Mountain spotted fever, a bacterial infection carried by ticks, which should be treated immediately.

Although most bug bites and stings do not turn into a severe or even fatal illness like Rocky Mountain spotted fever, it’s important to pay attention to your symptoms. If you feel tired all the time, you have a headache, fever or body aches, or you develop a rash after a bug bite, see a board-certified dermatologist immediately.

To remove a tick that is attached to your skin, dermatologists recommend the following tips:

  1. Use tweezers to remove the tick. Sterilize the tip of the tweezers using rubbing alcohol and grasp the tick as close to the skin’s surface as possible.
  2. Pull upward with steady, even pressure. Avoid twisting, squeezing or crushing the tick, as this can cause its head or mouth to break off and remain in your skin. If this happens, use tweezers to remove the remaining parts. If you cannot remove the rest of the tick, see a board-certified dermatologist.
  3. Dispose of the tick. Place it in a sealed bag or container; submerse the tick in alcohol; or wrap it tightly in tape. You may also want to save the tick in a sealed jar. That way, if you develop any symptoms after the bite, the tick can be tested for disease.
  4. Clean the bite area with soap and water.

Ticks can bite at any time, however they’re most active in April through September. Fortunately, there are many things people can do to protect themselves and their families against ticks.

To prevent tick bites, dermatologists recommend the following tips:

  1. Walk in the center of trails. Avoid walking through heavily-wooded and brushy areas with tall grass.
  2. If you must walk through heavily-wooded areas, wear long pants and long sleeves. Pull your socks up over your pants, and tuck your shirt into your pants to prevent ticks from crawling up your body. It’s also a good idea to wear light-colored clothes so that ticks can be spotted easily.
  3. Use insect repellent that contains 20 to 30 percent DEET on exposed skin and clothing. Make sure to follow the product instructions. Parents should apply this product to their children, making sure to avoid the hands, eyes and mouth.

Examine your skin after spending time in heavily-wooded or brushy areas. Conduct a full-body tick check to make sure that no ticks are crawling on you. Since ticks prefer warm, moist areas, be sure to check your armpits, groin and hair. You should also check your children, pets and any gear you used outside.