Doc Talk: Dangers of insect bites and how to treat them

In our weekly feature, 'Doc Talk', pediatric emergency doctor, Clint Pollack from Valley Children's Hospital talks about a common problem we all face during the summer, insect bites.

According to Dr. Pollack, insect bites may be merely annoying or may cause serious allergic reactions, skin infections, or transmit infectious diseases.

He says the most common biting insects are: mosquitoes, ticks, fleas, bedbugs, flies, chiggers, midges (no-see-ums), and a small number of types of spiders.

Dr. Pollack says insect bites are different from insect stings. Stings involve injection of venom into the skin and may cause reactions ranging from local irritation to life-threatening allergic reactions.

He says insect bites may result in local reactions, papular urticaria, or systemic allergic reactions.

Local reactions:
- Caused by irritating substances in insect saliva
- Red, itchy swelling at the site of the bite
- Usually resolves in a few hours, but may last for several days

Treatment

-Wash with soap and water, ice may be used for swelling/inflammation, Benadryl (diphenhydramine) may be given every 6 hours for itching and hydrocortisone 1% applied twice a day.

Papular urticaria
- Hypersensitivity reaction which causes longer lasting itchy red bumps on exposed skin.
- Treatment is the same as for local reactions.

Systemic allergic reactions (anaphylaxis)
- Severe allergic reactions may cause diffuse redness, swelling, itching, vomiting, low blood pressure, throat swelling, and breathing trouble.

- This can be very dangerous and requires immediate treatment with epinephrine, Benadryl, steroids, and other medications.
- If your child is having these symptoms, call 911 right away.
-Give epinephrine if you have it.

Dr. Pollack wants to warn parents that mosquitoes and ticks can transmit infectious diseases, but these are fairly uncommon.

He says mosquitoes may transmit West Nile virus and cause encephalitis.

Dr. Pollack says ticks may transmit Lyme disease, but this is uncommon in California.

He says if your child begins having high fevers, headache, vomiting, severe rash, or other concerning symptoms following an insect bite, please see a doctor.
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