Family Health Checklist for Bug Bites

Know the difference between chigger and mosquito bites, learn how to remove a tick, ref flags, medicines, and more.

woman with calamine lotion on bug bites

Photo by Felix Wong

Photo by Felix Wong

Bite Bootcamp

Chigger: These tiny orange guys hang out in tall grass near lakes and love to bite where clothing is tight.

Horsefly: “These bites really hurt and often bleed,” says Georgia entomologist Rosmarie Kelly, PhD.

Mosquito: You might feel an unbearable urge to scratch, but some lucky people don’t itch at all, Kelly says.

Tick: “Unless you find the tick on you, you probably won’t know you’ve been bitten,” Kelly says.

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It could be the flu...or an insect-borne illness. If you have a headache, fever or vomiting after an insect bite, talk to your doc.

Stock your medicine cabinet

Permethrin
This spray goes on clothes—not skin—and repels ticks and mosquitoes. Try Sawyer Permethrin Insect Repellent Treatment for Clothing, Gear & Tents.

DEET
To fight off mosquitoes, ticks and chiggers, use an insect repellent with at least 25% DEET. The higher the concentration, the longer it’s effective. We like OFF! Deep Woods Insect Repellent V

Topical creams
To calm an itchy bump, opt for an over-the-counter lotion like Cortizone-10 or Caladryl. Both should help minimize the itch and may reduce the size of any bumps.

Antihistamines
If a bite causes hives and this is your only symptom, try an allergy pill like Allegra or Zyrtec. Then talk to your doctor about the possibility that you may have an allergy to certain insects, in which case you’ll need to carry an EpiPen.

Take Note: Always apply sunscreen before bug spray.

How to Remove a Tick

1. Use tweezers to lift the entire tick straight out of your skin.

2. If any part of the tick still remains under your skin, use the tweezers to pull it out.

3. Dispose of it by soaking the tick in alcohol or flushing it down the toilet.

4. Immediately clean the bite and your hands with soapy water. If, after a few days, your bite turns into a bull’s-eye rash with a red center and white and red outer rings (a common sign of Lyme disease), see your doctor ASAP.

Spider Bites 101

Some spider bites (say, from a black widow or brown recluse) can be dangerous—even fatal—if not treated. If you experience these symptoms after a bite, head to the ER:

  • Immediate, sharp, stinging pain 
  • Redness and swelling
  • Chills, fever or restlessness
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Muscle cramps

Swat Training

Waving your arms around when you hear mosquitoes buzzing may help you evade them, according to a new study. Fanning your hand toward your shoulder can cause mosquitoes to associate your scent with danger, so they’ll try to nibble on someone else. And since avoiding mosquito bites is the best way to prevent infection from West Nile virus, this kind of swatting is a smart idea. 

Infection Red Flags

Your teen’s constant scratching can break bites open, which makes them prone to infection, says Chicago dermatologist Edidiong Kaminska, MD. If any of these symptoms occur, head to the doc: pain (rather than itchiness), yellow drainage, fever, swollen lymph nodes, increased swelling or redness.