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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.

From the WebMD Archives


What are the warning signs of anaphylaxis?

  • Itching all over your body. "Some people ignore the itching until they have difficulty breathing, which is a mistake," says Kelkar.
  • Having trouble breathing. According to Kelkar, some people won't have any itching, so this will be their first warning sign.
  • If these symptoms occur, call 911. Taking an antihistamine like Benadryl can slow the process, but urgent medical attention is essential.

How can you know if you're vulnerable to anaphylaxis? Unfortunately, you can't. But according to Kelkar, "If you've had a large local reaction, you're at slightly higher risk." Although a third of the people who get life-threatening reactions have other allergies, "the vast majority of people with allergies will never have a serious reaction to an insect bite," Kelkar points out.

Spiders and the Itsy Bitsy Bite

Most spiders are creepy, scary, and harmless -- their jaws can't even penetrate human skin. Spiders are not aggressive; in fact, they'll run any chance they get.

When spiders do bite (if surprised or trapped), they typically cause tiny wounds with minor reactions. But there are two spiders in North America that have a dangerous bite.

  • Black Widow. The female black widow is shiny, with a red hourglass marking on her belly's underside. If you think you've been bitten by a black widow spider, seek medical attention immediately. Although it is extremely poisonous, no one has died from a black widow bite in the U.S. in more than 10 years.
  • Brown Recluse. These shy spiders live only in the central and southern U.S. Their bite can cause a large, serious wound that needs medical attention. However, "The brown recluse often gets blamed for causing skin lesions in areas of North America where it doesn't exist," says Rick Vetter, an arachnologist with the University of California, Riverside.

"Usually, when we see people who think they have a spider bite, it's an unrelated skin infection," adds Rick Spurlock, an emergency room physician at Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta.

For a spider bite - other than one by a black widow, common sense measures are appropriate.

  • Wash the area with antiseptic soap and water, and keep it clean.
  • If the wound gets worse, or if you develop severe symptoms, see a doctor.
  • Use ice packs, over-the-counter pain relievers and antihistamines for moderate symptoms.
WebMD Feature Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD


SOURCES: Michael Wells, MD, University of Arizona. Pramod Kelkar, MD, an allergist and immunologist in Maple Grove, Minn. Ohio State University, department of entomology. University of Florida, entomology and nematology department. California Poison Control System. Rick Vetter, MS, department of entomology, University of California, Riverside. Rick Spurlock, MD, department of emergency medicine, Emory University School of Medicine, Atlanta.

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