What are Insect Bites?
Summertime is that time of the year when you are most likely to be bitten by all sorts of insects. An insect bite is characterized by a small, red lump or raised puncture which causes itchiness. Insects such as lice, mites, fleas, bedbugs, mosquitoes, spiders or scorpions are capable of injecting venom into humans and animals when they bite.
This venom contains proteins and other substances such as histamine that trigger an allergic reaction. Some people are more sensitive to insect bites than others, and often react badly to them. When you are bitten for the first time, a local reaction occurs depending on your level of sensitivity. If you are continuously exposed to insect bites, you may become immune to the bite and have no reaction at all.
Symptoms and signs
The common symptoms and signs of an insect bite include:
- Redness and swelling
- May develop into a weal (inflamed area may be filled with fluid)
If you experience symptoms after being bitten by an insect such as swelling, the bite does not clear up after two days and develops into a rash, flu-like symptoms as well as swollen glands, you should consult with a doctor immediately.
What Causes Insect Bites?
There are a number of factors that may contribute to being bitten by an insect and these include:
- Unsanitary living conditions, especially where overcrowding occurs
- Pets such as dogs and fleas are often flea infested
- Occupations such as landscapers, gardeners or forestry workers are most at risk of being bitten by ticks. People who work in warehouses, factories or on the docks are also at risk of being bitten by mites
- Participate in outdoor activities such as camping or hiking
- Travel bites are caused by insects when traveling to foreign destinations
- Old furniture and upholstery may contain bedbugs
Diagnosing Insect Bites
The diagnosis of an insect bite is usually based on your physical symptoms. To confirm a diagnosis, your doctor will check if your skin is irritated as a result scratching or rubbing of the area. If your symptoms are more severe, a fever may occur.
Occasionally, a bullous reaction (fluid-filled blisters) may develop in the lower legs of children. Another condition known as papular urticaria occurs when children are particularly sensitive to the bites of fleas, lice, mites, or bedbugs and presents itself small, raised bumps or lesions.
Help for Insect Bites
Most insect bites do not require medical treatment and occur as a small, local reaction which clears up in a day or two. These reactions can be treated by applying a cold compress on the affected area and taking painkillers such as ibuprofen and paracetamol. To soothe the pain of the bite, an anaesthetic or steroid cream may help.
Avoid scratching the affected area as you may damage the skin and it can lead to infection. Large, local reactions may be treated with oral antihistamine pills or analgesics. If you experience a severe allergic reaction to an insect bite with symptoms such as wheezing, hypertension or breathing difficulties, you should call for medical assistance immediately.
Herbal and homeopathic remedies are a more natural but still highly effective alternative to treating insect bites. These remedies are soothing and gentle on the skin, and also support the body’s natural ability to maintain harmony. Herbal ingredients such as Aloe ferox, Urtica urens and Calendula officinalis (Marigold) support and promote skin health, especially if outside irritants are the cause.
Other essential herbs include Hamamelis virginianum (Witch hazel) which acts as an excellent astringent herb with anti-inflammatory properties while Melaleuca laterifolia (Tea Tree Oil) has wonderful soothing and calming properties to lessen ‘angry’ skin. In addition, Lavendula officinalis (Lavender) is a sweet-smelling essential oil that also has strong supportive properties for the skin and promotes a relaxed spirit while Vit. E oil promotes skin healing.
More Information on Insect Bites
Tips to prevent insect bites
There are a number of precautions that you can take to avoid being bitten by insects.
- Cover exposed skin by wearing long sleeves and trousers when entering areas where insects are active
- Avoid using sweet smelling products such as perfumes, body lotions, soaps and shampoos as insects are attracted to them
- Use insect repellent in areas where fleas, mosquitoes, flies or ticks are common
- Treat pets regularly with anti-flea preparations
- Destroy nests or areas where insects may build nests in your home such as the attic, vents or window frames
- Cover food when outdoors at picnics or cookouts
- Avoid campsites near water such as swamps or ponds
- Wash bedding regularly at a high temperature to avoid bedbugs
- Sleep under a mosquito net or use mosquito traps and magnets to control them
- Apply insect repellant that contain DEET (diethyltoluamide) to your skin
- Use topical applications of citronella, lavender, tea tree oil and eucalyptus oils for mosquito bites
- When traveling to tropical areas ensure that you have the necessary vaccines and medications and your accommodation has insect-proof screen doors, and windows that close properly