8 Ways to Treat (and Prevent!) Bug Bites

Jess Lynk
Written by Jess Lynk
Updated October 8, 2021
Couple working in an urban garden
Photo: Tom Werner / DigitalVision / Getty Images

Save your skin this summer

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Whether you’re an avid camper, a backyard bonfire buff, or you live near a body of water, you’ve probably been bit by a pesky bug at some point in your life. It’s hard to make it through summer without some sort of bug bite. 

“If you put yourself in the wrong place at the wrong time, I guarantee you will come away with bites,” says Rick Steinau, owner of Ace Exterminating in Cincinnati. “For example, work in your garden at dusk, and you will come away with mosquito bites. Play with your dog in shaded areas with tall grasses, and you will certainly find fleas and, perhaps, ticks.”

Preventing Bug Bites

How do you avoid these bug bites without hiding inside? These four tips will save your skin—and your sanity. 

1. Use Insect Repellent

The most obvious tip to stop bug bites is to wear insect repellent. This can be an easy fix, but it is important to be sure you’re using the right kind. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), you should use Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-registered insect repellents with one of these effective active ingredients: 

  • DEET

  • Picaridin (known as KBR 3023 and icaridin outside the US)

  • IR3535

  • Oil of lemon eucalyptus (OLE)

  • Para-menthane-diol (PMD)

  • 2-undecanone

Some bug sprays have side effects, like mild skin and eye irritation, so be careful when choosing a spray. 

2. Dress for the Occasion

Woman wearing long sleeves plants in urban garden
Patrick Daxenbichler - stock.adobe.com

When you’re out in a place with a lot of bugs, cover as much skin as possible. Wear long-sleeve shirts, pants, socks, and closed-toed shoes. For more protection, pull your socks over your pants and tuck your shirt in. 

You can also spray clothing with 0.5% permethrin for added protection, according to the CDC. But be careful not to use permethrin directly on your skin. 

3. Identify What Bug Is Biting You

If you aren’t spending a ton of time outside, it’s important to identify where you may be getting your bites and which bug is the culprit, including identifying winged insects.

Brandon Poole, owner of Preventive Pest Control in Bluffdale, Utah, says his customers complain the most about spiders, wasps, bees, and hornets. 

“If someone is always suffering from bug bites, the first step is to have the bites identified,” he says. “Once you know what is causing the bites, then you can take the appropriate steps to keep them from continuing. Without proper identification, you’ll just be playing guessing games until you solve the issue.”

Figuring out what bugs are inhabiting your home can be challenging, but identification can help with treatment and prevention. If you can’t diagnose the bug bite yourself, call in a local pest control pro who can help immediately.

4. Start Planting

If you are trying to stop bugs from biting you in the comfort of your own home, planting specific greenery might help repel insects from buzzing around your yard. According to the University of California Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources, these plants may keep bugs from your yard:

  • Marigolds

  • Lavender

  • Rosemary

  • Mint

  • Basil

Treating Bug Bites

If you aren’t able to outrun those bug bites, there are many ways to treat them. They can be painful and itchy, but following these four tips should help. 

1. Clean the Bite

It’s really important to clean off the area that is infected. If you were stung by a bee, look for the stinger so it does not create problems in the long run. Leaving the stinger in can cause dizziness, nausea, and puts you at risk for infection. You can wash the area with mild soap (like Dove) and water. 

2. Put On an Ice Pack

The CDC recommends putting ice on your bug bites right away. Not only will this stop the itching, but it will stop swelling, too. Don’t apply the ice directly on your skin, but instead wrap it with a towel to create a barrier.  This will reduce skin redness and allow you to handle the ice for a longer period of time. 

3. Apply Calamine Lotion

Use over-the-counter medicines like cortisone cream or calamine lotion to stop you from itching your bug bites, or try sticking a bandaid over the bite to stop you from itching. The CDC also recommends mixing baking soda and water to create a paste to apply to reduce the itch. 

4. Take Pain Meds

If the bite still bothers you after icing and applying lotion, take an over-the-counter painkiller, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen. Follow the directions on the label and take the correct dose.

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