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Buzz Basics: How to Treat Insect Bites and Stings

Summer is here, and the bugs are back! No matter how hard you try to avoid them, insect bites and stings during the hot summer months are almost inevitable. So, instead of closing windows and hiding inside, learn how to treat bites and stings and brave the outdoors!

Bee, Wasp, Hornet and Yellow Jacket Stings
Most insect stings are not serious and can easily be treated. However, be on the lookout for allergic reactions, especially among adults and children who have never had a bee sting before. Severe allergic reactions that go untreated could be fatal.

A bee may leave behind a stinger when it stings. Try to remove it as quickly as possible by scraping it out with a credit card or similar. Wash the area with soap and water and apply a cold pack or a cold, wet washcloth to prevent swelling. Place a cloth or towel between the source of cold to prevent skin damage.

Pay careful attention to signs of an allergic reaction, especially wheezing or breathing difficulty, tightness in the throat or chest, swelling of the lips, dizziness, fainting, nausea or vomiting. These are indicators of a serious reaction and need to be treated by a physician immediately. You should also seek medical care if you notice a large skin rash, a large area of swelling around the sting site, or if swelling and/or pain persist for more than 72 hours.

Spider Bites
The majority of spiders found in the United States are harmless. Bites can be treated in much the same way as a bee sting. Wash the area with soap and water, two to three times a day until the skin is healed. Apply a cold compress. Place a cloth or towel between the source of cold to prevent skin damage.

There are two spiders whose bites can be harmful and need to be treated by a physician immediately. The black widow and brown recluse spider are most often found in warm climates and cause noticeable reactions. Symptoms include a deep blue or purple area around the bite, surrounded by a whitish ring and large outer red ring, body rash, muscle spasms or stiffness, abdominal pain, headache or fever, joint pain, nausea or vomiting, and lack of appetite.

Tick Bites
If youíve been in or around a wooded area, make sure you check yourself, your children and your pets carefully for ticks. Dog ticks and deer ticks are the most common, and both should be removed quickly and carefully.

If you find a tick, use tweezers to grasp the tick at its head, closest to the skin. Pull firmly until it lets go. Wash the bite area with soap and warm water. Apply antiseptic or antibiotic ointment. If rash, flu-like signals or joint pain appears, seek medical attention. Place the tick in a sealable container for analysis. Wash your hands thoroughly.

Some ticks, especially deer ticks, can carry Lyme disease. If left untreated, Lyme disease can cause permanent damage, so make sure to keep an eye on tick bites for any reaction. Early symptoms of Lyme disease include a red, ringed bullís-eye rash around the bite, swelling, fatigue, headache, joint pain and chills.

You can avoid ticks by wearing long sleeves and long pants, hats, pulling long hair back in a ponytail, using insect repellent and by wearing light colored clothing so that ticks are easily detectable.

To learn more about first aid for bites and stings, enroll in a Red Cross first aid course. Contact your local Red Cross chapter for more information.

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