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Bug Bites and Stings

Common stings and bites in Western WA and how to treat them.

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| June 25, 2021
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The positives of summer in the Puget Sound: sunshine, warm weather, long days, and plenty of outdoor activities. The negatives: a higher risk of being stung or bit by something unpleasant. Here are the most common insects you may come across in Western Washington and the best ways to treat them.

Insects and arachnids that bite:

  • Mosquitos
  • Chiggers
  • Fleas
  • Bedbugs
  • Horseflies
  • Deer flies
  • Gnats
  • Fire ants
  • Blister beetles
  • Centipedes
  • Spiders

Insects that sting:

  • Bees
  • Yellow jackets
  • Hornets
  • Wasps

Treating bites that itch:

Those itchy red bumps are the body’s reaction to the insect’s saliva. When a bug bites your skin and sucks blood, some of the saliva is exchanged into the bloodstream. These bumps can be extremely irritating – and so hard not to scratch! But it’s extremely important to not scratch them, as they can become infected. To alleviate the itch, try a 1% hydrocortisone cream like Premier Value Hydrocortisone. Additionally, you can take an allergy medicine with antihistamine like Benadryl to help.

If you don’t have either of these readily available, make a paste out of Baking Soda and water and apply to the bite. You can also try wrapping ice in a wet washcloth and hold it to the affected area.

Pain management for stings and painful bites:

95% of stings are from honey bees or yellow jackets. Unfortunately for painful stings, steroid creams and allergy medicines won’t do the trick. The first step is to remove the stinger if it is still in your body. If the stinger has already buried itself underneath the surface of the skin, do not remove. If the tip of it is above the skin, use a cleaned edge of a credit card or another sturdy thin flat surface to glide along the skin and remove it from a 90 degree angle. If you pull at it with tweezers, it can simply snap off and the rest will remain in your skin. Once the stinger has been removed, wash the area with soap and warm water.

Use a pain reliever such as Tylenol or Advil to help alleviate the pain. An ice cube wrapped in a wet washcloth applied to the sting area should also help.

Severe reactions to bites and stings:

In rare instances, some people can experience extreme reactions to bug bites, spider bites, or bee stings, including anaphylaxis. If you or someone you are with experiences any of the following symptoms, stop what you are doing and get to a hospital or call 911 immediately.

  • Difficulty breathing or swallowing. Though this usually appears in the first 20 minutes, it can take up to 2 hours for symptoms to appear.
  • Muscle pain or cramping
  • Fever

Severe reactions are most common with bee, wasp or fire ant stings. Reactions to other insect bites are rare, due to the fact that other insects don’t produce venom.

Though uncommon, Black Widow spiders can be found in Eastern and Western Washington. If you were bitten by a Black Widow, seek immediate medical attention.

Prevention Tips:

  • Try to avoid being outside during sunrise or sunset when bugs like mosquitoes are most active. Avoid, or be vigilant, in areas with stagnant or standing water, like lakes or ponds. Also, make sure that buckets, planters, and other containers around your yard are emptied of rainwater.
  • Wear long sleeves and pants. Bonus, this also helps to prevent sunburns!
  • Use a bug spray with DEET in it, like Off! Deep Woods Spray. The higher percentage of DEET indicates a longer length of protection. Do not use DEET near your eyes or mouth.
  • Alternatively, you can use Picaridin products, such as Sawyer Picaridin Insect Repellent Lotion.
  • Wear a bug repellent wrist band like Bug Band Insect Repelling Band.
  • If you know wasps are present in your area, do regular sweeps of the immediate area to eliminate growing nests in bushes, eaves, or under rooflines. Be sure to watch your step during your inspection. Wasps can also build nests in the ground, which can cause painful and traumatic encounters for unsuspecting pets and children.
  • Check your body and clothes after hiking in bushy areas for ticks. It is possible for ticks to carry Lyme disease. Ticks can look like a speck of dirt or a freckle.

That said, we hope you all have a bite-free, sting-free summer!