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Don’t let bites and stings make your summer into a bummer

Pacific Northwest summers offer a bounty of outdoor fun, from BBQs and boating to camping and hiking. Summer is also high season for stinging and biting insects, and that can be a buzzkill.

Stings and bites are common and usually only cause minor irritation. But they can be a big problem for people who are allergic. And some bugs, like ticks and mosquitos, can transmit serious illnesses. 

Knowing what you’re up against can help prevent unwanted stings and bites and keep pesky summer pests at bay.

What are the most common bugs in the Pacific Northwest that bite or sting?

The most common biting bugs found in the Pacific Northwest include:

  • Mosquitos
  • Ticks
  • Fleas
  • Bedbugs. 
  • Fire ants
  • Gnats 
  • Horseflies
  • Spiders

The most common species of stinging insects found in our region include:

  • Yellow jackets
  • Wasps
  • Hornets
  • Honey bees

In the PNW, more than 95 percent of stings are from yellow jackets or honey bees. Bumble bees much less likely to sting, although they will defend themselves and their nests.

How do I know what bug bit or stung me?

Bugs can be sneaky. A lot of times, you may not even know you have a sting or bite until after it happens. 

Here are some general guidelines about how to identify what’s gotten under your skin:

  • Mosquito bites usually cause small, itchy bumps that may be red or pink. 

  • Bees, wasps, hornets and yellow jackets can cause painful stings that may result in swelling, redness and itching at the site. 

  • A horsefly bite may cause pain, redness and minor swelling of the affected area. Occasionally, a red, raised rash may appear.

  • Tick bites may cause redness around the bite. In some cases, a rash that looks like a bullseye may develop, which can be a sign of Lyme disease.

  • Flea bites are commonly found on the legs and feet and may cause small, red bumps.

  • Bed bugs are usually small, itchy bites that often form in clusters. The best way to tell if your bites are from bed bugs is to look for reddish or rust-colored stains on the sheets or tiny dark spots from bug poop.

  • Spider bites can range from mild to severe, depending on the type of spider. A venomous spider can cause intense pain at the bite site, as well as 

    • Stiffness or joint pain
    • Muscle spasms
    • Abdominal pain or vomiting
    • Fever or chills
    • Difficulty breathing, swallowing or speaking
    • Dizziness
    • Convulsions


How can I prevent bug bites and stings?

To prevent bug bites and stings, dermatologists recommend the following tips:

  • Dress for success. Minimize skin exposure by wearing long pants, long-sleeved shirts and hats. Unless you’re sinking your toes into a sandy beach, avoid going barefoot when outdoors.

  • Wear the right color. According to researchers at the University of Washington, mosquitoes gravitate to red, orange, navy blue and black and ignore others colors. Bees and wasps are also attracted to bright colors and floral patterns. As a rule, stick to light, pale colors.

  • Use EPA-registered insect repellants that are proven safe and effective. The EPA search tool can help you find the product that’s right for you.

  • Sleep under a net. Whether you’re under the stars, on the patio or in an unscreened room, an  Insecticide-treated bed net (ITN) will offer the best protection, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

  • Keep trash cans covered and tightly sealed. Toss in a little vinegar to help repel bugs.

  • Keep food under wraps when dining al fresco. Food “tents” will help deter unwanted dinner guests.

  • Eliminate any standing water around your home. The best way to get rid of mosquitoes is to remove their breeding ground. Water in bird baths and pet bowls should be changed weekly. A fountain or mister will help drown mosquito larvae and help attract more birds.

  • Ditch the sweet-smelling stuff when you’re outdoors. The floral smells in perfume, cologne, heavily scented lotions, soaps, hair care products and scented sunscreens are happy triggers for stinging insects. Fun fact: Mosquitoes have supercharged receptors that can pick up a scent more than 100 feet away. 

  • Deter bugs naturally with something they hate. Several essential oils are natural insect repellents, including lavender, sage, citronella, clover, peppermint and geraniums.

  • Blow them away with a fan. Mosquitos are weak fliers. An oscillating fan will create enough of a breeze that makes it difficult for them to fly and land – and it won’t harm beneficial bees.

  • Keep your cool. Bees, wasps and yellow jackets will often defend themselves against aggressive swatting or other movements. Try to stay calm and slowly walk away from the area, even if you’re stung. Bees usually only sting once, but wasps and hornets can sting again.

  • Do a tick check. Always check clothing and skin for ticks whenever you or your kiddos venture into wooded or grassy areas.


How do I treat an insect sting or bite?

Even when you do everything humanly possible, bug bites and stings still happen. 

When they do, the American Academy of Dermatology Association offers these tips:

  1. For painful bites, such as bee stings, take over the counter pain reducers, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil).

  2. For bites that itch, apply an ice pack or OTC anti-itch cream, such as hydrocortisone. Nonprescription oral antihistamines can also offer relief.

  3. To reduce swelling, apply an ice pack to the bite or sting site. 

To prevent burns, never apply ice directly to the skin. Make sure there is always a protective barrier, such as a towel or cloth napkin. Limit ice application to no more than 20 minutes at a time.

Honeybees and yellow jackets are the only insects that will leave a stinger in your skin. If you’ve been stung by a bee, it’s important to work quickly to remove the stinger:

  • Pull the skin tight so you can get a better look at where the stinger is.

  • Use a credit card, your fingernail or gauze to remove the stinger by gently
    dragging it over your skin. 

  • Avoid using tweezers to remove a stinger. Squeezing it will release more venom into your skin.

  • If part of the stinger is left under your skin, it will likely work its way out within a few days. If not, see a healthcare clinician to rule out infection.

Mild reactions to insect bites and stings may last from a few hours to a few days, depending on what bit or stung you. In general, you can expect:

  • Itchiness that lasts a few days.
  • Skin redness to remain for about 3 days.
  • Swelling to stick around as long as 7 days.

If you’re experiencing symptoms that last longer, it’s a good idea to seek medical care.

When should I seek medical care for a bug bite or sting?

In most cases, bug bites and stings can be treated at home. But if you’re having a mild reaction, or you’re concerned or have questions about a bug bite or sting, Indigo can help. 

Our Urgent Care clinicians treat bug bites and stings, along with most other minor illnesses and injuries. And we make it easy and convenient to get the care you need – and put your mind at ease.

Walk into one of our neighborhood locations or book an appointment online. You can also schedule a same-day or next-day appointment with an Indigo Virtual Care clinician from the convenience of home or wherever your PNW summer adventures take you. 

In-person and virtually, you’ll receive a prompt diagnosis and treatment plan, if needed. Indigo is here from 8 am to 8 pm, every day.

Insect stings and bites can sometimes cause severe allergic reactions, also known as anaphylaxis. 

Call 911 or seek immediate emergency care if you have any of the following symptoms:

  • Rapid swelling of the lips, tongue, throat or around the eyes
  • Breathing difficulties, such as wheezing or shortness of breath
  • Severe itching, cramping or numbness
  • A reddish rash or hives
  • Stomach cramps
  • Loss of consciousness

 Anyone with a known allergy should always carry an anaphylaxis kit and wear a medical ID bracelet or necklace to identify their allergy.


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