When to Get Medical Treatment for an Insect Bite

Bugs — love ‘em or hate ‘em, some of them bite and sting. A few can even carry viruses. It’s true that some bug bites can case some serious reactions, but most are nothing to worry about.

Fear of bug bites shouldn’t keep you and your children from enjoying the summer at home, the beach, or the state park. Most bug bites respond to simple home treatments, and very few become emergencies. But how do you know the difference?

Here are some things to look out for while you’re outside this summer.

Symptoms of Insect Bites

Bug bites look relatively similar, regardless of what insect did the biting or stinging. Whether you or your child was bit by a flea, a bedbug, a mosquito, or a few fire ants, here is what you might see:

  • A small red bump
  • The appearance of a localized hive, one large or several smaller ones
  • A small water blister at the center of a bump

The itching can last several days, and the redness can last up to three days. Swelling may last up to seven days and is typically worse in the morning.

In some people, a mosquito bite might start as a red bump and develop into a raised, white hive that itches like crazy.

Family First ER provides the same emergency services as hospital-based emergency rooms. Our expert physicians and nurses offer professional medical care for patients experiencing severe allergic reactions.

Common Infections Caused by Insects

Bug bites can become infected because the individual scratches the bite and breaks the skin, creating an opening for germs or because the insect carries germs in its saliva. Minor infections may respond to over-the-counter antibiotic ointment, or you may need a prescription for oral antibiotics.


Impetigo is a skin infection common in children and infants, but adults can get it, too. It’s very contagious and can run amok in daycares and schools

Impetigo appears as red sores around the bite that eventually rupture, ooze for a few days, then form a yellowish crust. The sores might be mildly painful and itchy.


Cellulitis is a bacterial infection of the skin and underlying tissue. It isn’t contagious and responds well to antibiotics. However, untreated cellulitis can lead to sepsis, a serious and systemic infection.

Cellulitis appears as redness radiating from the bite. The individual will have a fever, swollen lymph nodes, and chills. You may see pus oozing from the insect bite.


When the lymphatic vessels become inflamed, it’s called lymphangitis. The lymph nodes and vessels are part of your immune system that moves lymph fluid throughout your body. 

Symptoms include:

  • Red, irregular, tender streaks extending from the bite, which may be warm to the touch
  • Enlarged lymph nodes
  • Fever 
  • Headache 
  • Chills 

Lymphangitis can usually be treated with antibiotics. Left untreated, it can develop into cellulitis, sepsis, or a blood infection.

Lyme Disease

Lyme disease is caused by bacteria transmitted through tick bites. It is most common in the northeast, mid-Atlantic, and north-central states. It’s treatable with antibiotics and must be diagnosed and treated early to prevent damage.

Symptoms include:

  • The characteristic bull’s eye-shaped rash, although not everyone gets it
  • Fever 
  • Headache 
  • Joint and muscle pain
  • Fatigue

Untreated Lyme disease can result in problems with your joints, heart, and nervous system.

Treatments for Mild Bug Bite Reactions

If a bug bites you or your child, move from the area to somewhere safe to avoid more stings or bites. Remove stingers from the wound and gently wash the area with soap and water. 

Apply a cold, damp cloth or ice pack to the area for 20 to 30 minutes to reduce pain and swelling. If the bite is on an arm or leg, raise the limb above the heart.

Apply calamine lotion, baking soda paste, or 0.5% to 1% hydrocortisone cream several times daily until the symptoms disappear. Take an antihistamine to reduce itching and a nonprescription pain reliever if needed. 

Whatever you do, DON’T SCRATCH. We know that is nearly impossible, especially for a young child, but do your best. If you break the skin, you risk infection.

What’s the difference between an ER and an urgent care facility? Here’s what you should know.

When to See a Doctor ASAP

Not all bug bites are emergencies, but make sure you note how the bite responds to home treatment. If you experience or observe the following symptoms, make an appointment with your doctor or go to the emergency room:

  • Swelling or redness that gets worse after 48 hours
  • The infection doesn’t get better after 48 hours of antibiotic ointment
  • Swelling or pus around the bite
  • Increasing pain
  • Fever above 100F or chills
  • The feeling of warmth around the bite
  • Sores or abscesses around the bite 
  • A long red line extending from the wound
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • A rash develops after a tick bite

If the bite is on your mouth, nose, or throat, or if you experience flu-like symptoms, see your doctor. 

Spider bites can also pose some danger. If you or your child experiences cramping, fever, nausea, severe pain, or an ulcer at the site within 30 minutes to eight hours of a spider bite, get medical help. Texas is home to Black Widows and Brown Recluse spiders. You should see a doctor if you believe one of them bit you or your child.

When to Go to the Emergency Room

The bite warrants a trip to the emergency room if the person has an allergic reaction. If someone displays signs of anaphylaxis, ask if they have an Epi-pen and whether they want you to inject it. The instructions are typically on the device and are easy to follow. Then loosen any tight clothing and cover the person with a blanket. Do not offer anything to drink. If needed, position the person to prevent choking on vomit.

Signs of anaphylaxis, which is a runaway autoimmune response to an allergen, include:

  • Trouble breathing or swallowing
  • Tightness in the chest or throat
  • Hoarseness or coughing
  • Slurred speech or drooling
  • Swelling in the eyelids, lips, throat, or face
  • Dizziness, unconsciousness, or confusion
  • Weak or rapid pulse
  • Nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea

If you experience or observe any of these symptoms, get to the nearest emergency room immediately. 


Summer brings outdoor fun, but it also brings the threat insect bites and stings. Most are not emergencies and respond well to home treatment or a visit to your doctor. However, if you have an anaphylactic reaction or develop a severe infection, you may need to get to nearest emergency room.  

If you need emergency treatment for an insect bite or sting, come to Family First ER. We’ll get you taken care of.