Bites and Stings: Causes and Symptoms

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Overview of Bites and Stings

Bites and stings of an insect can lead to swelling and itching. In most cases, it can be treated at home.

Some insect bites have the capability to transmit diseases, for example, mosquitoes. Bites and stings of an insect act as a defence mechanism to protect themself from external harm.

Some insects, along with stings, pass their venom. In such cases, there will be an allergic response. They can cause minor to major discomfort. They can be treated at home, and some cases may be fatal, which would require immediate medical attention.

Some of the common stings and bites that can occur to us on a daily basis are discussed below. Additionally, the different types of bites and stings are also briefed.

Difference between stings and bites

Both bites and stings can be painful. A sting by an insect can inject venom through the insect’s stingers into the system. An insect bite can be non-venomous, and they often inject anti-coagulant saliva and feed on your blood.

In most cases, stings can be a protective measure, and bites can be caused to suck the blood.

Insects like wasps, bees, fire ants, hornets and yellow jackets can inject venom. Fleas, lice, scabies, ticks, bed bugs and mosquitoes are non-venomous. However, it can cause an allergic reaction, like severe itching or swelling in the skin.

In some sensitive individuals, it can trigger a severe reaction and will require immediate medical attention. Sometimes, these allergic reactions can be life-threatening.

Non-venomous bites can cause diseases like malaria, encephalitis, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (RMSF) and Lyme.

Types of bites and stings

The different types of bites and stings are discussed below.

Bee stings

Bee stings can be painful, and they inject venom through the stinger. Bees can be a major nuisance when we tend to spend time outdoors— especially for kids.

Bee stings can be quick and painful. In most cases, bee stings will not cause any adverse reaction. However, always be watchful of the symptoms. In some cases, it can cause a severe allergic reaction.

Things to do when a bee stings

Most bees only sting once. However, if you are hyperactive, there are chances that it can sting again. So, try to stay calm.

If the stinger is still attached to the skin, try to scrape it with your fingernails or gauze. Do not use tweezers, as they can inject more venom into the skin.

Wash the infected area with soap and water. If there is swelling, apply a cold pack to reduce the swelling. Take some over-the-counter drugs. If the reaction does not settle, try to consult your doctor.

Mosquito bites

Mosquito bites are very common. It causes itchy bumps on the skin. Mosquitoes feed on the blood. Mosquitoes are capable of transferring diseases like malaria, dengue, West Nile virus, and yellow fever.

When mosquitoes bite an infected person, they are capable of carrying the bacteria and virus from the infected person and passing it on to a healthy person.

When mosquitoes bite, they can cause small blisters and a hive-like rash. To prevent mosquitoes from biting, apply some insect repellents.

Avoid outdoors after evening. Apply mosquito repellent if you have to work outdoors. Children can get bitten by mosquitoes when they play outdoors. Preventive measures can safeguard from such bites.

Tick bites

Ticks are small parasites that usually hide in wooden furniture, grassy areas, leaf piles and trees. They feed on human and animal blood and are capable of transmitting diseases like Lyme, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and babesiosis. These insects thrive in warm places.

Ticks can vary in size and colour. In most cases, tick bites can lead to itching. They cause allergic reactions like a rash or small bumps on the bitten area of the skin.

Ticks attach themself to the host through their skin for a long time. They can cause burning sensations and blisters.

Ticks usually bite moist areas of the body like the armpit, hair, groin and around the waist. Common symptoms of tick-born disease are

It is important to remove the tick first to treat such bites. In most cases, tick removal can prevent getting infected with tick-borne diseases.

Clean the tick-bitten area with an antibacterial cleanser after removing the tick. If you experience an allergic reaction, do not try to remove it, as it will release more allergens and can cause an adverse reaction.

Consult your doctor if the allergic reaction does not settle. The doctor will determine the treatment depending on the type of tick and the symptoms.

Horsefly bites

Horseflies are slightly larger than a housefly and commonly seen during the daytime. The female horsefly feed on human blood and the male feed on flower nectar.

Horseflies contain string mouth parts that can cut through the skin of humans and feed on blood. The mating season is during summer, and they lay eggs in damp areas.

Horseflies are attracted to bright colours and large sizes. In most cases, horseflies do not transmit any major diseases.

Symptoms of horsefly bites include


Red rash

Puffiness and swelling of the bitten area

Weakness and


Things to do

If you are bitten by a horsefly, clean the bitten area with soap and water. If the bitten area is swollen, apply an ice pack.

Do not scratch the bitten area; it can lead to blisters. If you experience pain, take some over-the-counter drugs. If the itching and pain do not settle, consult your doctor.

Midge or gnat bites

Midge bites are similar to mosquito bites, and they are usually seen during the dawn. Midge bites can cause small red bumps, and in some cases, they can develop as fluid-filled blisters.

These bites can cause itching accompanied by selling. They are not mostly painful but can cause alarming swelling.

Clean the bitten area, and if swelling occurs, try to apply a cold pack. Symptoms can subside in a few hours to days. If itching does not settle and an adverse reaction occurs, consult your doctor.

Bedbug bites

Bedbugs are small, wingless insects that hide in mattresses, bed frames and wall crevices. These bugs are small and reddish-brown in colour and feed on human blood.

These bugs cannot fly but can crawl rapidly. They can also attach themself to luggage, backpacks and other soft items. These bugs can transfer from one place to another when we travel.

So, after travelling make sure you wash your clothes and backpacks to avoid getting bitten by bedbugs.

If you have a straight red line mark, it can signify that a bedbug has bitten you. These bites are not usually painful but can cause severe itching.

When bedbugs bite you, there can be visible blood stains on your mattresses. These red stains can last for a few days. If these red bumps do not settle, consult your doctor. Call a professional team to totally get rid of the bedbugs. Try to discard the mattress and clean the clutter.

bedbug bite

Mite bites

Mites are small organisms that can cause red bumps when they bite. Mite bites can cause severe discomfort, which leads to itching. These mites are usually small, and only when they bite it will be noticed.

In most cases, mite bites are harmless. However, they can cause swelling and itching accompanied by pain.

The common symptoms of mite bites are

  • Irritation
  • Swelling
  • Swollen or blistered skin
  • Small bumps
  • Pain in the bitten area.

The mitten area should be cleaned with soap and water. It is advised to take a shower to get rid of the mites fully. The clothes and other items should also be cleaned with soap and warm water.

Mite bites can cause severe itching. Try to scratch, which can lead to infection. Consult a doctor if the itching does not settle.

Flea bites

Fleas are small insects that are brown and have flat bodies. These insects contain claws to attach themself to the host.

Fleas feed on human blood and can cause bumps on the skin. Fleas usually survive in warm areas. Fleas get themself attached to animals more than humans. However, they bite humans too.

When flea bites, they send saliva into the bloodstream, for which the human body secretes histamine. These can cause swelling and itching in the bitten area.

A flea-bitten area can appear as a small, discoloured bump, and these marks can appear in a straight line or as a cluster. The common symptoms of flea bites include

  • Discoloured ring in the bitten area
  • Severe itching.

Flea bites can be treated with over-the-counter drugs and usually do not require treatment. If the symptoms do not settle with the over-the-counter, consult your doctor.

Spider bites

Spiders are a common household insect. Spider bites are usually harmless, and they only bite when they are threatened. However, there are spider’s species that can be poisonous— they can even kill a person.

Spider bites lead to redness, swelling and pain. Spider bites usually heal on their own. Unless they are venomous spiders, treatment will be required.

Clean the bitten area with soap and water. Apply an antibiotic cream if there is redness and swelling. The antibiotic cream will also help to prevent the infection.

If you experience pain, try to take over-the-counter painkillers. If the symptoms do not settle after these treatments, consult your doctor.

Ant stings and bites

There are different types of ants— some bite, and some don’t. Ants contain jaws on their head for biting and pinchers on their bottom, which will sting. Ants usually bite or sting when they get threatened by humans or other threats.

When ants bite, they will grab the skin and either bite or sting. When they do so, they will release a chemical called formic acid. People allergic to formic acid can develop an allergic reaction which can lead to red bumps on the skin.

Ants usually live in groups, and there are about 12,000 species of ants living in our ecosystem. Not all ants are harmful to humans. Some ants might bite to protect themself when they feel threatened.

Some of the common types of ants include.

  • Fire ants

Fire ants are also called as red ants because of their colour. When fire ants sting, it can cause a burning sensation. They release venom when they bite, and this leads to a burning sensation.

  • Carpenter ants

Carpenter ants are called due to their way of building nests. They usually build nests in forest and woody areas. The carpenter ants’ bite can be painful when they sting or bite.

  • Flying ants

Flying ants have wings, and they are sexually mature ants. These ants are reproduced by the queen ants.

Red ants bite to defend themself. When they bite, it can lead to swelling with red marks. This swelling can later develop into pus-filled bumps.

  • Sugar ants

Sugar ants can be commonly seen in sweets and sugars. These ants are usually black in colour, and they bite to defend themself. These ant bites are not usually painful. However, it can cause an allergic reaction.

Ladybird bites

Ladybirds are usually friendly insects, but they can bite when they have no food and feel threatened.

In most cases, ladybird bites are not very painful. However, some people can develop allergic reactions due to ladybird bites.

Flower bug bites

Flower bugs have an oval-shaped body, and when they bite, it can be itchy and painful. It can lead to pink bumps, and in rare cases, it causes an allergic reaction. These insect bites can take a longer time to heal.

Caterpillar hairs

The larvae of butterflies are caterpillars. They have a cylindrical body with several segments. When people come in contact with caterpillar hairs, it can lead to an allergic reaction.

  • Pain
  • Redness
  • Blisters
  • Severe itching and
  • Rash

Apply some antihistamine creams if you have an allergic reaction. If the symptoms persist, consult your doctor.

Caterpillar hairs

What causes reactions to bites and stings?

When an insect bites or stings, the venom will be injected by its stingers or jaws. The injected venom will lead to an immune reaction by the body. This leads to redness and swelling at the site of the bite or stings.

These localised reactions can be caused due to an allergic reaction due to the injected venom. In some cases, these reactions can be delayed. In some cases, it can lead to anaphylaxis which can be fatal.


When an insect bites, it can lead to a certain allergic reaction. Sometimes, people are unaware that an insect has bitten them, and the symptoms may indicate that an insect has bitten them.

  • Swelling
  • Pain
  • Rash
  • Red or pink bumps
  • Itching
  • Heat around the bitten area
  • Numbness
  • Fever
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Muscle spasm.

In severe cases, insect bites can cause anaphylaxis which can be fatal. So, it is advised to consult a doctor when your symptoms do not settle.

Diagnosing bites and stings

The primary step in diagnosis will be observing what insect has bitten you. In most cases, medical tests will be required to test for the presence of venom or an allergic compound.

In some cases, blood tests will be recommended, and a skin biopsy will also be taken to test for any skin allergy.

Treating bites and stings

When insects sting, there are chances that the stingers can remain intact with the skin. These stingers should be removed immediately. Do not try to remove the stinger with tweezers, as you can end up squeezing the venom into the blood.

Try to remove it with a dull knife or gauze. Do not leave it on the skin for long times, as it can increase the dose or cause an infection.

When insects bite, wash the bitten area with soap and water. This will remove the allergic compound, if any. If swelling is observed, apply cold packs. Pain can be reduced with the application of antibiotics and antihistamine creams.

Some over-the-counter drugs can also be used to reduce pain. Acetaminophen, antihistamines and topical corticosteroids can help with pain relief.

If possible, try to keep the bitten area elevated and avoid scratching to avoid infections. These red bumps and itching can last for a few days. If they do not settle, try to consult a doctor.

Tips to avoid bites and stings

insect repellent

Some precautionary steps can be carried out to prevent getting bitten by insects.

  • When you are out in forests, try to avoid bright-coloured dresses.
  • Prefer wearing long sleeves and shoes when going out. This can prevent insect bites.
  • Use insect repellents and avoid using strong perfumes which can attract the insects.
  • When travelling to areas where there are mosquitoes, always carry antimalarial tablets.


Insect bites and stings are common. In most cases, they can be treated at home with over-the-counter drugs.

In some cases, insect bites might require immediate medical attention—for example, scorpion stings and bee stings. Consult your doctor immediately in such cases.


What is the best treatment for bites and stings?

Clean the bitten area with water and soap. If there is swelling and pain, apply cold packs and take over-the-counter drugs to reduce swelling and pain.

How do you know if a bite is serious?

When the symptoms like itching and swelling do not reduce after three days, it can indicate that the bite is serious. Consult your doctor if the symptoms do not settle.

Do ants bite or sting?

Ants can bite and sting. They contain jaws and pinchers on their head and stingers on their bottom. So, if they feel threatened, they can bite and sting.


The Information including but not limited to text, graphics, images and other material contained on this blog are intended for education and awareness only. No material on this blog is intended to be a substitute for professional medical help including diagnosis or treatment. It is always advisable to consult medical professional before relying on the content. Neither the Author nor Star Health and Allied Insurance Co. Ltd accepts any responsibility for any potential risk to any visitor/reader.

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