Insect bites and stings are a ubiquitous part of summer, and while most people suffer from the occasional irritating itch or painful sting, some can have serious allergic reactions to summer’s buzzing pests. Jamie Rosenthal, MD, allergy, asthma, and sinus specialist at the George Washington University (GW) Medical Faculty Associates (MFA), explains the symptoms to watch out for and what you can do to keep your skin safe from hungry bugs.
Q. What are the most common bug bites and stings during summer months?
Rosenthal: Mosquito bites are one of the most common bug bites. Gnats are really annoying as well but don’t bite. What we worry about as allergists, however, are bee, wasp, and yellow jacket stings because those can cause life-threatening allergic reactions.
Q. What can you do prevent bug bites and stings?
Rosenthal: Covering up your skin is a good start. Wearing hats, long sleeves, and long pants when outdoors can be helpful, as is trying to limit your exposure to places where bees and wasps might be. You can also use insect repellent to help prevent insect bites and stings as well.
Q. What’s the best way to treat bites and stings?
Rosenthal: For regular mosquito bites, try not to scratch them, and they will eventually go away on their own. However, if they are particularly itchy or bothersome, you can use some over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream to help with itching and to make them go away faster.
Q. What are signs you’re having an allergic reaction to a sting?
Rosenthal: Some symptoms of an allergic reaction include hives or a rash all over your body, difficulty breathing, facial swelling, nausea or vomiting, and lightheadedness or passing out. Those symptoms should always be taken seriously and warrant immediate medical attention.
If you think you’ve had an allergic reaction to a bee, wasp, or yellow jacket sting, you should definitely call 911 and have them bring you to the emergency room, where you can be evaluated. And then afterward, you should follow up with an allergist.
Q. What can a patient expect when they visit an allergist at the GW MFA for reactions to bites or stings?
Rosenthal: It depends on what the reaction is; we take a very careful history to figure out if they’ve had a true allergic reaction or not, and then our recommendations depend on that. Patients also do not need a referral to see us here.