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Home Health Library Insect bites and stings: First aid

Insect bites and stings: First aid

How to administer first aid for insect bites or stings.


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).

When to seek emergency help

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 of the following symptoms:

  • Trouble breathing.
  • Swelling of the lips, face, eyelids or throat.
  • Dizziness, fainting or unconsciousness.
  • A weak and rapid pulse.
  • Hives.
  • Nausea, vomiting or diarrhea.

Take these actions immediately while waiting for medical help:

  • Ask whether the injured person is carrying an epinephrine autoinjector (Auvi-Q, others). Ask whether you should help inject the medicine. 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


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 to the affected skin a cloth dampened with cold water or filled with ice. Keep it on 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 skin 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 by mouth to reduce itching. Options include nonprescription cetirizine, fexofenadine (Allegra Allergy, Children's Allegra Allergy), loratadine (Claritin). These types of medicines are also called antihistamines.
  • Take a nonprescription pain reliever as needed.

When to call your doctor

See a healthcare professional if the swelling gets worse, the site shows signs of infection or you don't feel well.

Last Updated: April 10th, 2024