Treating Bug Bites

Jun 28, 2022

By Barret Procyshyn, Pharmacist at the Dauphin Clinic Pharmacy

Last week's article discussed bug spray and the ingredients used commonly to prevent mosquito bites. If you missed it in the Parkland Shopper you can find it at In addition to being unpleasant, insect bites can lead to a variety of health problems, such as Lyme disease and West Nile virus. Again, the best way to protect yourself is to avoid being bitten. Use appropriate bug spray and wear clothing to cover areas susceptible to bug bites.

However, with our mosquito counts through the roof, the chances of not getting bitten at all are slim to none. Some people react to bug bites more than others. I can remember as a child I would get bitten and if there was a bump at all it went away quickly. However, for my brother it was a different story. Now I see the differences in the severity of the post bite reaction in my children. One thing is for sure, mosquito bites are significantly worse in small children. Those with weakened immune systems may have significant reactions as well.

When a mosquito bites, it pierces the skin using a special mouthpart (proboscis) to draw up blood. As the mosquito is feeding, it injects saliva into your skin. Your body's immune system reacts to the saliva resulting in a red bump and likely some itching.

Washing the bug bite or bites with soap and water further reduces the small risk of infection and may reduce the severity of the bite. Some health care providers suggest rubbing the bite with hydrogen peroxide to limit the redness and itching. The CDC recommends applying a baking soda mixture after washing the bites. To make it mix a tablespoon of baking soda with a tiny amount of water to create a paste. Apply the paste to the mosquito bite, wait 10 minutes and then wash off the paste.

Using calamine lotion is also a cheap and effective option for itching and redness. It is also safe to use on delicate skin. Antihistamines are also an effective treatment option. I would recommend using a cheaper generic non drowsy version in the pill form for adults and for children who can swallow tablets. Topical Benydryl is also sold at the pharmacy, which can be used for spot treatment, but has shown to be less effective than oral antihistamines. For children, non-drowsy liquid antihistamines are available and are dosed once daily. The best treatment for redness and itching may be over the counter topical steroids, like hydrocortisone. They are also quite inexpensive and safe. You do want to use a low strength when applying it to the face or to an infant. Treatments like After-Bite can also help with the itching but may burn when applied to the skin especially if there is a small opening. My advice is to start treating as soon as the bite appears, which will prevent itching and scratching. This will cause further irritation, break the skin, and significantly increase the risk of infection. An infected bite may appear red, feel warm, or a red streak will spread outward from the bite.

If a bite is painful, applying ice or a cold compress can also limit the pain. Speaking of pain, medications such as Tylenol and Advil can be used. If possible, I usually recommend an anti inflammatory such as ibuprofen or naproxen. Most often a bee or wasp sting rather than a mosquito bite causes pain.

If a bug bite causes a severe reaction, you should seek medical advice. A severe reaction includes those occurring over a large area of the body, signs of infection, or ineffective treatment after seven days. The good news is mosquito bites are usually mild and go away on their own. Just like last week, I wish you luck out there. Whether you are at Countryfest, at the fair, or at the lake this long weekend prevent the bug bites first and enjoy!

The information in this article is intended as a helpful guide only. It is not intended to be used as a substitute for professional advice. If you have any questions about your medications and what is right for you see your doctor, pharmacist, or other health care professional.


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