The Sting and Bite of Summertime

When the weather gets warmer, people like to enjoy the great outdoors. This can ultimately lead to an increase in the number of insect bites and stings. Common bothersome insects fall into two categories: Hymenoptera, which include all the winged stinging insects such as bees, wasps and wingless ants and arthropods, which include biting insects such as ticks, mosquitoes, chiggers, fleas and bedbugs.1 Reactions to insect stings or bites can range in severity from mild to severe and could cause serious health problems.

Avoiding Stings and Bites

There are many steps you can take to prevent stings. An important thing to be aware of is that  insects usually sting because they feel a threat to their hive or colony. Watching out for stinging insects and exiting the area if seen can prevent a painful encounter. Other steps include:

  • Not walking in bare feet
  • Avoiding wearing perfume or using other cosmetics with fragrance as this may cause insects to attack you
  • Using cups with tight lids or recap bottles between sips to prevent bees from entering drinks

A key to avoiding biting insects is staying out of infested areas. Other methods include:

  • Avoiding walking through tall grass
  • If tall grass can’t be avoided, wearing long sleeves and pants
  • Tucking your pants into your socks to avoid exposure to ticks and chiggers.1

You can also use an insect repellant containing the chemical DEET to prevent insect bites. While this won’t prevent stinging insects, if you carefully follow directions on the container for proper use, bites can be avoided1

Caring for Stings and Bites

Symptoms from a sting or bite are a result of the injection of venom or other substances at the site of the bite.2 Often the bite or sting will cause a minor localized reaction. Symptoms can include minor pain, swelling and redness to the area of the sting or bite and can last for a day or two.Applying a cold pack to the area can help with pain and swelling. The use of a nonprescription pain reliever or antihistamine can also be helpful, but check with your physician or pharmacist for an appropriate product and be sure to mention that you take Warfarin (or brand of warfarin such as Coumadin®).

Sometimes, a severe reaction to a bit or sting can occur. Symptoms can include difficulty breathing, swelling of the lips or throat, hives and rapid heartbeat. Severe reactions can be dangerous and immediate medical care should be sought in the emergency room if this occurs.2


1. Insect Stings and Bites of Summer. W. Steven Pray, PhD, DPh. US Pharmacist. 2007; 32(6): 12-15.

2. Insect Bites and Stings: First Aid by Mayo Clinic Staff. 

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