When Insect Bites and Stings Require Urgent Care


Here in the warm, humid Washington, D.C., area, insect bites and stings may not be welcome, but they are a part of life. And even if you take steps to avoid them, bites and stings can be difficult to avoid. 

While these annoying bites may make you itch or cause some discomfort, most of the time they don’t require medical care. But, some insect stings and bug bites can be dangerous to your health. 

At Prima Medicine, with locations in Fairfax and South Riding, Virginia, our providers offer internal and primary care services alongside urgent care services for a range of chronic and acute issues, including insect bites and stings.

From allergic reactions to bee stings to bacterial infections caused by tick bites, our team specializes in getting you the care you need. Keep reading to learn how to tell when insect bites and stings require urgent care.

Home care for insect bites and stings

While it’s nearly impossible to avoid ever getting an insect bite or sting, the good news is that most cause only mild reactions that can be treated at home. Here’s a quick guide to treating these unpleasant bites and stings:

  • Remove the stinger, if any
  • Wash the bite or sting with soap and water
  • Apply ice or a cold pack to the area for 10-20 minutes
  • Elevate the injured area if possible
  • Apply a topical cream or ointment, such as baking soda paste, calamine lotion, or hydrocortisone cream until your symptoms resolve
  • For itching, take an over-the-counter (OTC) antihistamine
  • For pain/discomfort, take an OTC pain reliever, such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen

If your symptoms don’t improve, or if they get worse after a day or so, be sure to schedule an appointment with a team member at Prima Medicine to check for infection or other issues.

When your bite or sting requires urgent care

Some insect bites and stings can trigger reactions that make it essential to see a medical provider. Generally, this occurs for one of two reasons: 

  1. You’re having an allergic reaction 
  2. You’re having a bad reaction because of disease-causing viruses, bacteria, or parasites 

Here’s a closer look at these two reasons to seek urgent care after experiencing an insect bite or sting:

Allergic reactions

Researchers estimate that up to 8% of people experience a significant allergic reaction to an insect bite or sting at one point in their lifetime. Allergic reactions occur because your immune system overreacts to a foreign substance. 

Many symptoms can result due to an allergic reaction. Symptoms, which can range from mild to severe, can include redness, swelling, itching, hives or a rash, and pain. 

When you get stung or bitten, be sure to practice self-care at home. If your symptoms don’t go away after using home treatments, such as ice or topical ointments, schedule an appointment with a provider at Prima Medicine. 

In about 3% of adults, an allergic reaction to a bite or sting can cause a potentially life-threatening condition called anaphylaxis. Signs of an anaphylactic reaction include: 

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Swelling in your lips or throat
  • Accelerated heart rate
  • Dizziness
  • Vomiting

If you or someone you love experiences any of the above symptoms after getting a bite or sting, don’t wait to seek medical care. Call 911 or head to your nearest emergency room. 

Reactions that indicate an infection or a parasite

Even if you don’t have an allergic reaction, some insect bites and stings require urgent medical care, because some stings and bites can bring with them bacteria, viruses, or parasites that may cause disease. 

For example, tick-based conditions, such as Lyme disease, require treatment with antibiotics to address the infection and manage symptoms. And some bug bites can trigger a bacterial infection called cellulitis, which requires medical care. 

Some common signs that you may be dealing with a parasite, viral infection, or bacterial infection include:

  • Skin rash that doesn’t resolve
  • Bull’s-eye ring around the bite
  • Joint pain
  • Muscle pain
  • Red line extending from the bite or sting
  • Fever with red or black spotty rash
  • Fever without a rash
  • Body aches
  • Fatigue
  • Chest pain
  • Headache 
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Cognitive changes
  • Digestive symptoms
  • Genitourinary symptoms
  • Swollen lymph glands

If you have any of the signs above after experiencing an insect bite or sting, schedule an urgent care appointment online or over the phone with Prima Medicine.

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