First Aid for Bites and Stings

Imagine gardening and enjoying the nice weather, or hiking the Appalachian Trails in North Carolina, and suddenly your trip is ruined by a bug bite or a sting.  Let’s talk about how to prevent, recognize, and manage different insect bites or stings. 


One of the most effective methods to protect yourself from being stung or bitten by an insect is to try to minimize as much exposed skin as possible. Wearing long sleeves and long pants tucked into your socks (this is especially helpful in avoiding tick bites) and closed-toe shoes could help, especially during the warmer months when bugs are most active. Perfumes, shampoos, and soaps that have strong smells can attract insects. If you are camping near water such as swamps, lakes, or ponds, you can use thin bed nets pretreated with pyrethroid insecticide to protect from mosquitoes and horseflies that are common near the water. 

Insect repellents can also be effective. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has recommended that everyone should use an insect repellent that contains one of four ingredients: DEET (diethyltoluamide), picaridin, oil of lemon eucalyptus with an active ingredient PMD, or IR3535.

Let’s discuss each of these insect repellants:

  • DEET: it is a commonly used insect repellent. Every year around 30% of the US population uses at least one product containing DEET. 30% is often considered an ideal concentration. This concentration will help you to guard against mosquitos and tick-transmitted diseases. Higher concentrations do not considerably increase the protection, and unfortunately, increase your exposure to the chemical. Minimizing the exposure to DEET is also important because prolonged exposure and use of DEET can affect the central nervous system. However, studies finding these effects used very high concentrations of DEET that are not found on the market, making these effects rare. Additionally, DEET has proven to be safe when pregnant. The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) classified DEET as “not classifiable as a human carcinogen” which implies that there is no evidence that shows DEET does or does not cause cancer. The spray can be applied every 4-8 hours. The most common side effect of DEET is skin irritation. 
  • Picaridin: a synthetic compound that was made to resemble the natural compound piperine derived from a plant. It was invented in the 1980s but entered the US market in 2005. Like DEET, picaridin has been shown to provide reliable protection against insects. The concentration usually ranges from 10%-30%. CDC states that it can be safely used during pregnancy and lactation. Additionally, picaridin is odorless and non-greasy. Depending on the concentration, it can last for up to 8 hours against mosquitos and 5 hours against ticks. 

Initial steps of managing insect bites and stings

  • Mild reaction:
    • For honeybee stings, remove the stinger immediately. An effective method to do that would be to use a credit card to scrape the stinger off. Squeezing or rubbing the stinger could release more venom, so that should be avoided when possible. The next step would be gently washing the area with soap and water. In order to slow the absorption of the venom and reduce itching, swelling, and pain, apply a cold compress to the area for 10-20 minutes.
    • If it was your arm or leg that had been stung, elevate that area.
    • Mayo Clinic recommends applying calamine lotion, or hydrocortisone cream of 0.5% or 1% to the affected area several times a day.
    • In order to further reduce itching, you could take over-the-counter antihistamine medications by mouth such as Zyrtec (cetirizine) 10mg, Allegra (fexofenadine) 180mg, or Claritin (loratadine) 10mg.
    • Ask your pharmacist about appropriate dosing for you based on age and other conditions.  If you start experiencing pain, you could start taking an over-the-counter pain medication such as Tylenol. 
  • When to call 911 or visit urgent care: 
    • Scorpion or spider stings. The spider might not be venomous, but it is better to be on the safe side. 
    • Start experiencing any symptoms of a severe reaction such as swelling of face, lips, or throat, rapid pulse, shortness of breath, hives, nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea. 

We’re here to help


We are grateful and proud to be your independent pharmacy, and we value your trust in us. 


If you want to know more about the ways to protect yourself from getting stung or bitten by an insect or how to manage a mild reaction from the bites or stings, visit your nearest Hawthorne Pharmacy location. 


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