How to Treat Common Stings

July 7, 2020

Clinical Contributors to this Story

Nripen C. Dontineni, M.D. contributes to topics such as Internal Medicine.

When you spend time outdoors this summer, you may get a painful sting or bite from an insect or other creature, whether you’re inland or at the shore.

“There’s always a possibility of being stung when you’re walking in nature, sitting in your backyard, lying on a beach blanket or going in the ocean,” says Nripen Dontineni, M.D., an internal medicine specialist at Hackensack Meridian Medical Group. “Fortunately, there are some things you can do to lower your chances of being targeted.”

If you’re stung or bitten in New Jersey or surrounding areas, these are the common culprits:

Bees, Wasps and Hornets

You may disturb a bee, wasp or hornet when working in your garden or walking across the lawn. Bees only sting once, but wasps and hornets may sting multiple times, so it’s wise to leave the area quickly.

How to treat bee, wasp and hornet stings:

  • use soap and water to clean the site
  • if there’s a stinger left behind, scrape it off with a credit card or fingernail
  • don’t use tweezers to remove a stinger; you’ll release more venom into your skin
  • apply ice to reduce swelling and pain
  • use an over-the-counter antihistamine or topical corticosteroid

Prevention:

  • don’t swat at flying insects; they may feel threatened and sting
  • wear light-colored clothing
  • avoid wearing perfume or cologne
  • don’t walk barefoot in the grass

Spiders

Some spiders may bite without you noticing. Wolf spider bites may be painful. Bites from brown recluse spiders and black widows are poisonous and require medical attention.

How to treat spider bites:

  • wash the area with soap and water
  • apply ice to reduce swelling and pain
  • take over-the-counter painkillers as needed
  • for brown recluse or black widow bites, clean the site immediately with rubbing alcohol or hydrogen peroxide, then seek emergency care

Prevention:

  • use caution when touching piles of wood, boxes in your garage or other spots where spiders may hide
  • wear long sleeves and pants, with the cuffs tucked into your socks, when moving firewood or cleaning sheds, attics or garages

Fire Ants

Although they aren’t native to the area, there are fire ants in New Jersey. If you disturb their mound, they may swarm, stinging and biting.

How to treat fire ant stings:

  • wash the area with soap and water
  • use an over-the-counter antihistamine or topical corticosteroid

Prevention:

  • don’t disturb ant mounds
  • use caution when moving things that may attract ants, like an animal carcass
  • tuck your pants into your socks when working outside

Horseflies and Greenheads

Horseflies may bite you inland; greenhead horseflies may bite you at the beach. Both types of bites are painful and itchy.

How to treat horsefly bites:

  • wash the area with soap and water
  • apply ice to reduce swelling and pain
  • use an over-the-counter antihistamine or topical corticosteroid

Prevention:

  • wear light-colored long-sleeved shirts and pants
  • use insect repellent such as DEET
  • stay off of the beach when greenheads are out

Jellyfish

A beach day can go sour quickly if you encounter a jellyfish.

How to treat jellyfish stings:

  • use salt water to rinse the affected area
  • remove any tentacles from the skin with a credit card, protective gloves or a thick towel
  • take over-the-counter painkillers as needed

Prevention:

  • don’t swim in areas that are flagged for containing jellyfish
  • avoid collecting seashells or shellfish around eelgrass beds

Stings and Severe Allergic Reactions

Although stings can be painful and cause redness and swelling, most people have minor reactions. See a doctor if signs of infection develop, like redness and swelling.

Some people experience severe allergic reactions when they’re stung, which may be life-threatening. If you have a known allergy and an epinephrine auto-injector (EpiPen), use it when you’re stung, then seek emergency care.

If you experience symptoms like these after you’re stung, call 911 and seek emergency care:

  • trouble breathing
  • wheezing
  • swollen lips, mouth or throat
  • feeling dizzy or losing consciousness

Some people may not realize that they have an allergy; they may develop symptoms after being stung.

“If you are known to have an allergy that can cause severe allergic reactions, it’s so important that you carry an EpiPen with you when spending time outdoors or anytime you may encounter bees or other stinging insects,” says Dr. Dontineni. “It may help save your life.”

Next Steps & Resources:

The material provided through HealthU is intended to be used as general information only and should not replace the advice of your physician. Always consult your physician for individual care.