Bites and Stings
Over 10 million people are treated annual for non-canine bites and sting injuries on an annual basis. In many cases, it’s not the bite or sting that brings the person to the medical facility, but rather the reaction afterward. Typically, most reactions to an insect bite or sting are mild and do not require any sort of medical intervention. The usual reaction is localized to the area around the bite or sting and usually involved some mild redness, some itching or burning, and some mild swelling. These symptoms will generally go away in a short period without treatment or by applying cold compresses or an over the counter topical anti-itch medication.
On a rare occasion, some people may experience a more severe reaction to a bite or sting. Symptoms of a more severe reaction include:
- Hives, severe itching or rash that extends away from the sting or bite area
- Swollen lips or eyelids
- Swelling of the throat or difficulty swallowing
- Difficulty breathing or wheezing
- Dizziness, fainting or loss of consciousness
- Nausea or vomiting
If any of these symptoms occur, medical treatment should be sought immediately.
Specific types of bites or stings can be managed if the type of insect is known.
Insect Stings (Bees or Wasps)
Most people will not have an allergic reaction to a bee sting, but they, especially wasp or hornet stings, are very painful. Bees, in particular, will often leave behind the stinger; which prolongs the envenomation.
- To remove a stinger, scrape or flick at it with a credit card or something similar. Avoid trying to pull it out with tweezers as this can often ‘inject’ more venom into the wound.
- Wash the area with soap and water before applying a cold compress to reduce any swelling.
- Watch for any signs of severe allergic reaction.
Spider Bites or Scorpion Stings
People blame spiders for many bites and rashes that really have nothing to do with these small and essentially harmless creatures. Most spiders do not bite and are basically harmless. Those that do, generally leave behind only a minor bump that causes itching or irritation. Very few spiders are poisonous or cause any serious infection. If you notice that you have multiple bite/bite marks, it is usually unlikely that the culprit is a spider.
Those spiders you should be careful of are the black widow and the brown recluse. Both of these spiders are typically found in the southern United States, but it’s not unreasonable to have them be found in northern climates as well. The Brown Recluse is especially fond of dry, wood piles and it’s there that many of its victims have encountered it.
Both spiders have bites that can cause damage; the Black Widow will cause pain at the site of the bite, and generally induce nausea, severe stomach pain and muscle pain. The Brown Recluse bite will destroy tissue and the initial bite usually causes fever, pain, nausea and headache. Over time, if left untreated, the bite area will discolor as the skin is affected by the poison.
If you suspect you have been bitten by either of these spiders, you should seek out emergency medical treatment immediately.
Scorpion stings are mostly contained to the southwest portion of the United States (Arizona, California, New Mexico and Texas.) On rare occasion, travelers have been known to bring them home in their luggage or other belongings if they’ve traveled to areas where scorpions are common.
Mostly, scorpion stings are more serious to the very young or very old; a healthy adult can generally survive a sting and suffer mild to moderate nausea and/or vomiting in addition to pain and swelling at the sting site. Ice and over-the- counter medications can be used to treat the symptoms.
For more severe symptoms, emergency care should be sought.
If you are bitten by a dog or cat – whether yours, a neighbor’s or a stray – you should seek care for the wound from an urgent care provider or emergency medical facility. Most animal bites can transmit illnesses or diseases from the bite through the puncture of the skin. Even if you know the animal and know it is in good health, cat bites and scratches have a very high incident rate of infection even when the wound seems minor.
At the least, clean a MINOR wound with soap and water, being sure to apply an over-the-counter topical antibiotic ointment before covering with a clean bandage. Be sure to keep the wound clean and dry, watching for any sign of infection and changing the bandage daily.
If the wound is bleeding excessively or is deep, has jagged edges or the animal is unknown or acting strangely; control the bleeding and seek medical help as soon as you’re able. If possible, capture the animal or gather any information about it so it can be passed on to Animal Control.
Be sure to update your tetanus if you have not had one within the past 10 years.