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Insect Bites and Stings

Insect Bites, Bug Bites, Bee Stings, Wasp Stings

Treatment and Prevention

If the stinger has been left in the skin, it should be removed as soon as possible. The most often suggested method of removing stingers is to scrape the skin with a thin, dull edge, such as the edge of a credit card or a thin dull table knife. Using tweezers to remove bee stingers may result in more venom being introduced into the wound due to unintentionally squeezing the poison sac.

Some specialists say that since the poison sac of a bee sting is still attached after the bee is gone, care should be taken not to squeeze it as this can force the remaining poison into the wound. Others maintain that it doesn't matter how it is removed. Either way, you should remove it as quickly as possible to minimize the poison dose and the risk of infection.

Wash the affected area with soap and water.

Applying an icepack to prevent the venom from spreading and applying a paste of baking soda and water may also help to relieve welt formation.

With most bites and stings, the best treatment is to wait for the itching to go away. Ice cubes, aspirin, antihistamines, and calamine lotion can help. If you are at risk of a major anaphylactic reaction (anyone who has had a severe allergic reaction in the past is at risk), some doctors recommend carrying a syringe filled with epinephrine*. This naturally occurring hormone will open breathing tubes closed by anaphylaxis.

People who are allergic to insect stings may also undergo desensitization. This is only useful for people who have tested positive in the skin-scratch allergy test. By being exposed to small and harmless amounts of venom on a regular basis for a few years, the body's response to the venom is changed, hopefully lowering the risk of anaphylaxis from future stings to almost nothing.

You should remove ticks with tweezers. They should be pulled straight out, as this reduces the chance of the head and mouthparts remaining in the wound. This may happen anyway. If it does, pluck out the easily accessible parts, but don't fish around in the wound. These parts are unlikely to cause infection and certainly won't transmit Lyme disease. Don't try to kill the tick with heat or any chemical while it is still attached – just pull it out.

To avoid insects and insect bites, do not wear brightly-colored clothing or strong, flowery perfumes. Do not carry overripe fruit or walk through clover fields. People with allergies to stings should wear identification bracelets. Applying insect repellents may also be useful to avoid insect bites. Wear long-sleeve shirts, pants, and socks for protection.


*All medications have both common (generic) and brand names. The brand name is what a specific manufacturer calls the product (e.g., Tylenol®). The common name is the medical name for the medication (e.g., acetaminophen). A medication may have many brand names, but only one common name. This article lists medications by their common names. For more information on brand names, speak with your doctor or pharmacist.

Jeffrey Heit, MD, Internist with special emphasis on preventive health, fitness and nutrition, Philadelphia VA Medical Center, Philadelphia, PA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network.