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Coping With Bug Bites

Bug bites may seem like a rite of passage for enjoying the outdoors, but WebMD tells you how to protect yourself and when to take emergency action.
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WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Labor Day! Last call for the public pool, for that big, extended family barbeque - and to finally deal with an enemy that has bugged all your other summer outings.

If you've been feeling hassled by horseflies and mobbed by mosquitoes, here's how to cope with those unavoidable annoyances of the outdoors. And how to tell if that little welt is turning into something more serious.

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Know Your Enemy

There are more than 170 million insects for every person on earth -- and sometimes it seems like they're all in your backyard. Feeling flea-bitten? You may never catch the culprit -- but most likely, it was one of these bothersome bugs.

Mosquitoes

These little bloodsuckers love water and damp conditions. Only the female bites, injecting saliva under the skin. The red, itchy welts from mosquito bites result from an allergic reaction to the saliva.

  • Some people become immune after many lifetime bites, while other people become more allergic to mosquito bites over time.
  • Wearing long sleeves and pants, and using insect repellant with DEET, will protect you from most bites.
  • Taking an antihistamine like Claritin before going outside can decrease your reaction to bites.
  • Rarely, mosquitoes transmit West Nile virus, which causes flu-like symptoms and encephalitis (inflammation of the brain).

Biting Flies

No-see-ums, horseflies, deerflies, blackflies, and sand flies are in this gang of pests. Their bite is more painful and annoying than mosquitoes', and can rarely cause an allergic reaction.

Black and Red Fire Ants

On the rise, they're most common in the South. They can create a small blister or pustule (pus-filled swelling) that comes a day or two after the bite. This goes away in a few days. Many people who are allergic to bees or wasps are also allergic to fire ants.

Yellow Jackets, Hornets, Wasps, and Bees

Although famed and feared for their painful stings, these striped buzzers almost never attack unless their nests are disturbed or they are antagonized.

  • Never swing or swat at them; it can provoke an attack. Don't crush or smash one either -- this can release an alarm scent that may stimulate others to sting.
  • If you're being buzzed, cover your face and stand still or walk away slowly. Don't run!
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