Cibola
Search and Rescue

Insect Bites

from Volume 4, Number 4 of Lost ... and Found

by Joyce Rumschlag

[Disclaimer: The editors remind you that written descriptions of first aid are not a substitute for proper first aid training, and that Cibola SAR's policy is that medical decisions are properly deferred to trained medical personnel!] It's getting to be that time of year again when all the dormant insects come out to do the things that they do and to be annoying to the rest of us. If you've ever been bitten, you already know whether or not and to what extent you are allergic to these bites. Some people are allergic and do not know it because they have never been bitten. Commonly seen signs and symptoms include pain, irritation, swelling, heat, redness and itching. Hives or welts may occur. These are the least severe of the allergic reactions that commonly occur from insect bites and stings. They are usually dangerous only if they affect the air passages (mouth, throat, nose, etc.), which could interfere with breathing. You may want to check that open can of coke before you slam down the last swallow. Bees love the sugar. The bites and stings of bees, wasps, ants, mosquitoes, fleas and ticks are usually not serious and normally produce mild and localize symptoms. Keep in mind, flea and tick bites are how we become introduced to lyme disease, hantavirus and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever.

Emergency allergic or hypersensitive reactions sometimes result from the stings of bees, wasps and ants. Many people are allergic to the venom of these particular insects. Bites or stings from these insects may produce more serious reactions, to include generalized itching and hives, weakness, anxiety, headache, breathing difficulties, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. Very serious allergic reactions (called anaphylactic shock) can lead to complete collapse, shock and even death.

First Aid
If there is a stinger present, remove it by scraping the skin's surface with a fingernail or knife. Do not squeeze the sac attached to the stinger because it may inject more venom.

Wash the area of the bite or sting with soap and water.

Remove jewelry from bitten extremities because swelling is common.

In most cases of insect bites the reaction will be mild and localized; use ice or cold compresses on the side of the bite or sting. This will help reduce swelling, ease the pain, and slow the absorption of venom. Meat tenderizer or calamine lotion may be applied locally. I have tried both and neither had any significant effect on itching or swelling. I have also found that a decrease in activity and elevation of the affected area reduces "down time."

If the reaction or symptoms appear serious, seek medical aid immediately. Swelling can be dangerous when it begins to restrict circulation.

Prevention
Apply insect repellent, reapply every 2 hours or after stream crossings. Be on the watch for insects swarming around. Never swat at or try to fan away insects. This seems to have a reverse effect on them.

Wear long pants especially when sitting directly on the ground. Long sleeved shirts can save on insect bites as well as provide protection from the sun.

Avoid wilderness critters and their nesting or bedding areas!

References
Virtual Naval Hospital

[Disclaimer: The editors remind you that written descriptions of first aid are not a substitute for proper first aid training, and that Cibola SAR's policy is that medical decisions are properly deferred to trained medical personnel!] Back to the Minilesson Page
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