First aid for insect stings

Many people are stung by insects each year, whether or not they have taken precautionary measures. How should you care for insect stings?

Insects and insect stings

Source of wonder for some and of fear for others, insects may hide just about anywhere and surface when you least expect it. Mosquitoes, black flies, bumble bees, bees, wasps and hornets are examples of insects that send a shiver up some people’s spine. Although most of them are peaceful and harmless for humans, some of them may attack for no apparent reason.

The consequences of a sting or bite depend on the context and the insect in question. For example, certain spider bites, especially those of the black widow and brown recluse spider, can lead to a more serious reaction. Fortunately, these spiders are not found in Quebec, but being bitten by one of them, during a vacation for example, requires a visit to the hospital.

Insects may sometimes be carriers of disease which can be transmitted to us after having been stung or bitten. This is the case, among others, of infection by the West Nile virus, which can be transmitted by mosquitoes, and of Lyme disease, which can be transmitted by ticks.

In the case of a tick bite, it is important to gently remove every part of the tick from the skin and most importantly, any mouthparts. If you are unable to remove it completely, you should go to a hospital.

As for bees, it is also important to remove the sting lodged in the skin to promote healing from the insect sting.

Possible symptoms and complications

Most of the time, insect stings only cause temporary discomfort and symptoms that vary in nature and intensity. An individual who falls victim to a blood-thirsty insect can present various symptoms, including the following:

  • itching
  • swelling
  • redness
  • pain
  • burning sensation, and
  • feeling of general malaise

Fortunately, these manifestations are generally benign and limited to the affected area and will heal on their own in a few hours or days.

Treatment measures

The best way to protect against insect stings is still prevention. Avoiding infested areas, wearing clothes that cover as much skin surface as possible and using a mosquito net hat are examples of ways to prevent the inconveniences of an insect sting.

Using insect repellent can also help protect against certain insect bites, such as mosquitoes and ticks. For additional information about the prevention of insect bites, click here.

However, despite using these defensive measures, a person can still be stung by an insect. In this event, the following tips will help reduce the intensity and extent of the reaction:

  • Apply ice (wrapped in a cloth) on the affected area right away after having been stung (ice should not be applied for more than 15 minutes).
  • Gently clean the affected area with soap and water and avoid rubbing it vigorously.
  • Apply cold compresses for a few hours following the insect sting.
  • Take a bath containing colloidal oatmeal.
  • Do not scratch the insect sting.

Some over-the-counter medications may help relieve symptoms. They should be used only if the measures described below are not effective enough.

Symptoms caused by insect stings should not last for more than seven days or worsen after using medication. Otherwise, you should consult a doctor. If infection appears (pus, warm skin, increased pain and redness), consult a health professional promptly.

More serious reactions

Some individuals have a more severe reaction to insect stings due to an allergy. Insects that are most often responsible for a severe allergic reaction are undoubtedly bees and yellowjackets. Anaphylactic shock is a severe allergic reaction that can result in death. Here are a few symptoms to watch out for that require calling an ambulance as quickly as possible:

  • hives
  • swelling of the lips and throat
  • difficulty breathing
  • nausea and vomiting
  • hot flush or redness
  • drop in blood pressure
  • feeling weak, and
  • fainting

If you are aware that an insect sting may cause an allergic reaction, go to the emergency immediately if you have been stung. Also, always have self-injectable epinephrine with you (EpiPenMD) and administer this medication immediately after you have been stung and before going to the emergency. Speak to your pharmacist for additional information about the measures that should be taken in the event of a severe allergic reaction.

Insect stings are an integral part of Canadian summers. Knowing how to adequately treat them can facilitate recovery. When in doubt as to what the best treatment option is for you or a loved one, don’t hesitate to ask your pharmacist for help.


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First aid for insect stings

Many people are stung by insects each year, whether or not they have taken precautionary measures. How should you care for insect stings?
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