Signs Your Bug Bite is Something Serious
Health and Well Being
August 28, 2023
Signs Your Bug Bite is Something Serious
Man rubbing his leg outdoors after exercise

While bug bites and summer are pretty synonymous, chances are you haven’t spent too much time outside this sweltering summer. Now that the weather has cooled off a bit, you may be starting to get more and more outdoor time, and, yes, getting some bites. While most bug bites are just pesky annoyances, there are times when that tiny bump can turn into something more serious.

“I really have not given much thought to bug bites in the past,” says Danielle Martinez, a Dallas resident. “However, this summer, my mom got bit by something and had a really bad reaction. That’s when I realized just how quickly something like a bug bite can turn serious. She got bit on her foot and has poor circulation in her feet due to diabetes, so that was really concerning. I think for a while, everyone was still under the assumption ‘It’s just a bug bite, nothing to get too wild over,’ but when it wasn’t getting better with time and started bruising, we knew we needed to get mom some urgent care.”

With a dose of antibiotics, some rest and elevation, the swelling, redness and bruising eventually went down and Martinez’s mother recovered. To this day, she is still unsure of what bit her, but it made the family take pause and consider what to do when a bug bite turns serious.

“We were Googling like crazy, and you’re seeing all this really scary stuff and the whole time you’re just in disbelief because it’s a pesky little bug bite, you know?” Martinez adds. “We were not prepared for anything serious.”

So, let's talk about how to spot those signs that indicate a bug bite might be something worth giving a little extra attention to.

Swelling Beyond Normal

While a small bit of swelling is to be expected around an insect bite or sting, if you notice an unusual amount of swelling beyond the immediate bite area, it could be a sign that your body’s immune response is kicking into high gear, and you might want to keep an eye on it.

Red Streaks, Lines or Bruising

Red streaks or lines radiating from a bug bite could indicate an infection making its sneaky way into your system. Think of it as the bug's last-ditch effort to mess with you. Additionally, while some minor bruising can be normal, any significant bruising can indicate that your immune system is kicking in, possibly due to an allergic reaction or an infection.

If you notice streaks, lines or bruising, especially if they’re growing or getting darker over time, it's a good idea to consider seeking some medical advice, just to be on the safe side.

Intense Pain or Itching

Itchiness and some pain or soreness are par for the course with many bug bites. However, if the itch or pain evolves into a level of discomfort disproportionate to the size of the bite, you might be dealing with a possible infection or allergic reaction.

Heat at the Bite Site

Another possible sign of infection or severe allergic reaction is heat radiating from the site of the bite. This is a sign that your body is sending in its troops (a.k.a. white blood cells) to tackle a potential infection. Heating things up is the body's way of fighting off invaders, but sometimes it's better to have a medical professional take a look and offer some reinforcements.

Fever and Chills

If you're experiencing fever, chills, or both, and it seems to be connected to a bug bite, don't just brush it off. These symptoms might be your body waving a red flag that something more serious is going on.

Persistent and Spreading Rash

A rash is usually a telltale sign your body is having a less-than-ideal reaction to something. If the rash around a bug bite is spreading and doesn't seem to be letting up, it could indicate an allergic reaction or even an infection.

Difficulty Breathing or Swelling Elsewhere

Some bug bites can trigger serious allergic reactions known as anaphylaxis, and oftentimes you won’t know you’re allergic until you’re bit. Anaphylaxis can be a life-threatening emergency and should always be treated as such. If you find yourself struggling to breathe, your throat feels like it's tightening up or itchy, or if you notice sudden swelling in areas other than the bite site, don't wait around for a second invitation to seek medical help. Call 911 or your local emergency services.

An Abscess Begins to Form

An abscess can form for a number of reasons depending on what bit you and if the area is infected. An abscess is our body’s way of defending against unwanted bacteria that entered the bite either through the bug itself or outside factors.

While abscesses aren’t always an indicator of needing to seek medical care, if treating it at home by keeping the area clean, elevating and applying warm compresses isn’t showing any signs or improvement, or you start to notice an open wound or pus forming, you should have a doctor check it out.

Signs Your Bug Bite May Be Infected

If caught early, minor infections from bug bites or stings can often be managed at home using over-the-counter (OTC) antibiotic ointments. However, there are instances where seeking medical attention from a doctor becomes crucial for an infected bug bite or sting.

Here are some circumstances that indicate it's time to see a doctor:

  • If you exhibit signs of a systemic infection, such as experiencing chills or running a fever, especially if the temperature exceeds 100°F (37.7°C).
  • If a child displays any signs of an infected bug bite.
  • When you notice lymphangitis symptoms, including red streaks extending from the bite area.
  • If you develop sores or abscesses around or on the bite location.
  • When the pain around or on the bite worsens within a few days following the bite.
  • If an antibiotic ointment has been used for 48 hours but the infection fails to improve.
  • When redness spreads from the bite and increases in size after 48 hours.

To treat a bug bite at home, consider these home remedies:

  • Gently cleanse the affected area with soap and water.
  • Keep the bite site and any other infected areas covered.
  • Employ ice packs to minimize swelling.
  • Use hydrocortisone ointment or cream topically to reduce itching and swelling.
  • Relieve itching with calamine lotion.
  • To reduce itching and swelling, consider taking an antihistamine like Benadryl.

If you’ve been treating at home and not seeing any improvement, medical intervention may be necessary. In situations where infection symptoms are more severe, such as fever, rapidly worsening redness, or significant pain, and OTC antibiotic ointments prove ineffective, a doctor might recommend stronger topical antibiotics or oral antibiotics.

Remember, infection is just one factor prompting a doctor's visit following an insect bite or sting. Other reasons include:

  • Being stung or bitten in sensitive areas like the mouth, nose, or throat.
  • Experiencing flu-like symptoms a few days after a tick or mosquito bite.
  • Developing a rash after a tick bite.
  • Getting bitten by a spider and encountering symptoms such as cramping, fever, nausea, severe pain, or an ulcer at the bite site within 30 minutes to 8 hours.
  • In case of symptoms of anaphylaxis, an emergency condition resulting from a severe allergic reaction, immediate medical attention is crucial.

Whether it's an infection, severe symptoms, or a potential allergic reaction, your health and safety always come first. Don't hesitate to consult a doctor if any doubts arise following an insect bite or sting.

Vulnerable Populations

Children, the elderly, and individuals with compromised immune systems are at a higher risk of experiencing severe reactions to bug bites.

Children’s immune systems are still growing and developing, so they can sometimes overreact to a little nibble from insects. This can lead to more intense reactions, like severe itching, swelling, or even widespread redness. On the other end of the spectrum, as we age, our bodies might not bounce back as swiftly as they used to. This can mean that bug bites, even seemingly harmless ones, have a better chance of causing discomfort or more severe reactions. Additionally, if someone has a medical condition that weakens their immune system, bug bites might turn into a bigger concern. These individuals might struggle to fend off any potential invaders brought along by the bugs, leading to infections, allergic reactions, or even more complicated issues.

Whether it's a child, an elderly family member, or someone with a compromised immune system, keep an eye out for severe symptoms like intense swelling, difficulty breathing, fever, or widespread rashes. If any of these signs show up, it's time to consult a doctor.

The Takeaway

Remember, your body is a smart cookie, and it knows how to communicate with you. If you're getting the feeling that something isn't quite right, trust that gut instinct, even if you’re thinking to yourself, “It’s just a bug bite.”

Whether it's a quick call to your doctor or a visit to the nearest urgent care or emergency room, putting your health first is always a smart move.

While most of the time bug bites are nothing more than a minor nuisance, every now and then, your body might be trying to tell you a different story.

Remember – when it comes to your health, it's always best to play it safe. You can visit our website any time to schedule a Virtual Visit or in-office appointment with a Texas Health Physicians Group primary care doctor or find a Texas Health Breeze Urgent Care facility near you.

We use cookies and similar technologies to enhance your experience on our website and help us
understand how our site is used as described in our Privacy Statement and Terms of Use. By
using this website, you are agreeing to our Terms of Use.
Accept and Close