Most insect bites and stings are mild and can be treated at home. They might cause itching, swelling and stinging that go away in a day or two. Some bites or stings can transmit disease-causing bacteria, viruses or parasites. Stings from bees, yellow jackets, wasps, hornets and fire ants might cause a severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis).
For mild reactions
To treat a mild reaction to an insect bite or sting:
- Move to a safe area to avoid more bites or stings.
- Remove any stingers.
- Gently wash the area with soap and water.
- Apply a cloth dampened with cold water or filled with ice to the area of the bite or sting for 10 to 20 minutes. This helps reduce pain and swelling.
- If the injury is on an arm or leg, raise it.
- Apply to the affected area calamine lotion, baking soda paste, or 0.5% or 1% hydrocortisone cream. Do this several times a day until your symptoms go away.
- Take an anti-itch medicine (antihistamine) by mouth to reduce itching. Options include nonprescription cetirizine, fexofenadine (Allegra Allergy, Children's Allegra Allergy), loratadine (Claritin).
- Take a nonprescription pain reliever as needed.
Seek medical care if the swelling gets worse, the site shows signs of infection or you don't feel well.
When to seek emergency care
Call 911 or your local medical emergency number if a child is stung by a scorpion or if anyone is having a serious reaction that suggests anaphylaxis, even if it's just one or two signs or symptoms:
- Trouble breathing
- Swelling of the lips, face, eyelids or throat
- Dizziness, fainting or unconsciousness
- A weak and rapid pulse
- Nausea, vomiting or diarrhea
Take these actions immediately while waiting for medical help:
- Ask whether the injured person is carrying an epinephrine autoinjector (EpiPen, Auvi-Q, others). Ask whether you should help inject the medication. This is usually done by pressing the autoinjector against the thigh and holding it in place for several seconds.
- Loosen tight clothing and cover the person with a blanket.
- Don't offer anything to drink.
- If needed, position the person to prevent choking on vomit.
March 18, 2022
From Mayo Clinic to your inbox
Sign up for free, and stay up to date on research advancements, health tips and current health topics, like COVID-19, plus expertise on managing health.
ErrorEmail field is required
ErrorInclude a valid email address
To provide you with the most relevant and helpful information, and understand which
information is beneficial, we may combine your email and website usage information with
other information we have about you. If you are a Mayo Clinic patient, this could
include protected health information. If we combine this information with your protected
health information, we will treat all of that information as protected health
information and will only use or disclose that information as set forth in our notice of
privacy practices. You may opt-out of email communications at any time by clicking on
the unsubscribe link in the e-mail.
Thank you for subscribing
Our Housecall e-newsletter will keep you up-to-date on the latest health information.
Sorry something went wrong with your subscription
Please, try again in a couple of minutes
- AskMayoExpert. Stinging insect allergy. Mayo Clinic; 2021.
- Stinging insect allergy. American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. https://www.aaaai.org/Tools-for-the-Public/Conditions-Library/Allergies/stinging-insect-allergy. Accessed Jan. 10, 2022.
- Thompson DA. Bee sting. In: Adult Telephone Protocols: Office Version. 4th ed. American Academy of Pediatrics; 2018.
- Kermott CA, et al., eds. Emergencies and urgent care. In: Mayo Clinic Guide to Self-Care. 7th ed. Rochester, Minn.: Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research; 2017.
- Bug bites and bee stings. American College of Emergency Physicians. https://www.emergencyphysicians.org/article/health--safety-tips/bug-bites--bee-stings. Accessed Jan. 10, 2022.
- LoVecchio F. Scorpion envenomation causing neuromuscular toxicity (United States, Mexico, Central America, and Southern Africa). https://www.uptodate.com/ contents/search. Accessed Jan. 10, 2022.