How to recognise them, what to do and when to go to the doctor.
Because no one on Earth is free if insect bites in their life time, let me share a general idea and advice on insect and spider bites.
What is an insect bite and why it happens?
A bite is the action that takes place when an organism, say insect, spider or other, feels agitated and needs to defend itself from danger detected through their various sensors, or when they need to feed themselves.
Did you know that most bites our human body gets are caused by female species?
Why? Because they are the ones reproducing and holding eggs inside.
As you all know, pregnancy requires nutrients. The same happens for insects. And one of the main nutrients during pregnancy are proteins…the exquisite and most basic nutrient WHICH flows in our bloodstream. And this is the reason why we get bites many times: because female pregnant insects are looking for nutrients/proteins to feed their eggs. So as they bite our skins, they go straight inside looking for our veins in order to drink our blood. As simple (and creepy) as it sounds.
This video here might be a bit graphic for some, but it is definitely an interesting one showing how insects do this: feeding from your vein. It is actually impressive. So hit the play button for some exciting 30 seconds of a bite as seen through a microscope. I promise it’s not gross just interesting-weird!
Insects vs. Spiders
Insect bites are usually not dangerous and will most likely heal without any medical measures. Many times, people are not even aware they have been bitten until they feel some itching a few hours/days afterwards.
Spider bites instead can be dangerous and they need to be examined most of the times. Why? Because all spiders have the capacity to produce poisonous substances. And you never really know what kind of spider just bit you.
*If possible, catch the spider and keep it so your doctor can see it. This applies for mosquitoes too. It’s a practical thing to do and us, doctors, will appreciate it in the emergency room if you bring us the insect or spider that you think just bit you.*
Kinds of Reactions
Before I explain more, just remember a basic: Redness on the skin = Inflammation (ALWAYS and nothing else).
1. Mild: tiny local skin reactions smaller than 5 cm, that will usually heal without making anything about them. It can be a bit of redness, inflammation (redness), itchiness, a weal on the skin, even a vesicle some times. But nothing else. Applying ice on the area will be good enough to ease the acute pain or itchiness.
2. Medium: skin reactions larger than 5 cm-wide but still limited to the skin only. Some more symptoms could arouse such as tingling sensation.
3. Severe: Any symptom beyond the skin. These are usually dangerous and could develop in a short period of time, usually involving fever, headaches, respiratory symptoms like a breathing difficulty sensation, intensive coughing, cramps, swelling of the face and/or general tingling sensation throughout the body, even paralysis in extreme (unusual) cases.
What to do?
First of all: don’t panic! Most insect bites will disappear on their own and with no further reactions.
Second: Wanted – Dead or Alive. Check if you can see the insect or spider responsible of the bite. If possible, catch it and keep it somewhere safe and away from your skin.
Third: get some ice or anything cold to apply on the bitten skin. This will help avoid further inflammation and itchiness.
Last: If the reaction seems unusual (severe symptoms) look for the nearest emergency room or doctor available.
*Remember you can always get in touch with me for medical guidance.*
When to go to the doctor/ER?
- Fever higher than 38ºC/100ºF
- Breathing/swallowing trouble
- Strong acute headache, nausea or vomiting
- Tingling sensation throughout the body
- General sudden skin rash
Treatment and Remedies
Most common remedies are mainly to diminish the symptoms such as itchiness and inflammation. As long as symptoms keep within the mild range, you can go with any of these. If reaction expands, you should always go to a doctor or emergency room near you.
- Ice or anything cold on the injury. It will help reduce the immediate inflammation that will begin right after the bite.
- Corticosteroids: medication that blocks inflammation reactions in the body, reducing the immediate symptoms. They can be found as cream or lotion at pharmacies, over-the-counter (OTC). No prescription required. Ej: Hydrocortisone or Prednisone creams.
- Anaesthetics: usually as a spray or cream, such as Lidocaine or Benzocaine. Applied locally, these will put your skin on «pause», blocking sensation and making pain disappear. This option WILL NOT make inflammation go away, just the pain. So it is important to combine it with something else to avoid inflammation.
Antihistamines: pills containing a medication that makes cells to stop, block or delay the inflammation process in the body. It will help avoid the swelling as well as the itchiness. They are also an OTC medication. Also known as antiallergic medication.
Antihistamines are in the same pills used for rhinitis, flu or similar. Those «cocktail-pills» for the flu will always contain some antihistamines. If you can’t access a pharmacy where you are but you’ve got some meds for the flu, then go ahead and take them in case of an insect bite. It will help too.
3. Alternative Remedies
These are some I found while researching for this post. I haven’t tried them myself but apparently they have been useful to a good part of humanity many times.
- Olive Oil
- Calamine: traditional remedy for mild itching, containing zinc and iron oxide.
- Baking Soda + Water: to be applied on the skin.
- Burow Solution: an astringent made with aluminum acetate which soothes and provides relief.
- Mint oil, Mentol or Camphor. Anything oily helps to ease the symptoms too.
Repellents! Always and forever.
There are several ingredients in some repellents that are said to be the ideal ones in order to prevent bites. You can look any repellents containing these:
- Plant-based oil of lemon eucalyptus
*There is a lot discussed about DEET, mostly among bio and organic users, which is completely valid. I am suggesting here the regular and usual prevention products that can be bought on regular stores. Of course we can extend the topic for healthy reasons on a different post. I’d be happy to hear your knowledge and suggestions on bio-products for insect bite prevention.*