When does an insect bite need medical attention?
Although insect bites or stings can cause irritation, redness, pain or itching, most of the symptoms can be managed at home and they settle within a few hours or days. Most insect bites are not serious and usually resolve with no problems. Occasionally insect bites can cause infections, allergic reactions and transmit diseases. Insect bites or stings can cause a red bump, which may be painful or itchy. Some people have mild allergic reaction with larger red raised areas.
What to do with insect bites
If there is a sting present, gently remove the sting and wash the area with soap and water. Cold pack on the area for 10-15 minutes helps to reduce the mild reaction of red swelling of the bite or sting. It also helps to reduce any itching. Antihistamines are helpful to reduce the itchiness and redness and also to settle mild allergic reactions. Avoid scratching or aggravation to the bite so as to reduce risk of infection and further reaction.
When to seek medical attention
Get medical attention when the bite is not improving or has been worsening after a few days.
- when redness and swelling are worsening, or with the presence of pus, which may be an indication of infection, whereby antibiotics may be needed
- when rashes spread with worsening itch
- when the bite causes severe swelling in the face, mouth, eyes
- when there are signs of generalized infection, where one feels unwell, with fever, flu-like symptoms, or the presence of swollen glands
Mosquito borne diseases in Singapore
In the tropics, dengue fever is prevalent with mosquito bites and symptoms tend to appear a few days to a week after the mosquito bite. Dengue fever causes intermittent high fever, tiredness, headaches, body and joint aches, rashes and some may develop bleeding. Malaria tends to occur in some parts of Asia and this infection would require prompt treatment if you have travelled to areas with high risk of malaria.
Zika virus infection is transmitted by mosquitoes and individuals who had mosquito bites in areas of high transmission, who develop symptoms of fever, conjunctivitis and rash during pregnancy would need to consult their obstetrician for evaluation.
When does a bite reaction becomes an emergency?
Call 995 for ambulance assistance if there is severe allergic reaction to the bite or sting.
The symptoms of severe allergic reaction may include:
- shortness of breath
- wheezing, hoarseness of voice
- severe swelling of tongue, mouth, eyes, throat, face
- choking sensation, tightness in chest or throat
- dizziness, loss of consciousness, fast heart rate, nausea and vomiting
Get immediate medical attention also if there has been previous severe allergic reaction to similar bites or stings, such as previous allergic reactions to stings by bees, wasps. Individuals who had previous severe allergic reactions are usually prescribed medication to be used in these situations.
Most insect bites cause mild irritation and resolve themselves without problems. Insect bites that result in moderate to severe allergic reaction and infection would require medical attention.
Preventing bites and stings is the best course of action …especially in places of high disease transmission (such as malaria, dengue, zika) and for individuals with severe allergic reaction.
Dr Phua is based at IMC Camden and has a special interest in dermatology.
Call 6733 4440 to make an appointment.