These simple tips will help you avoid bug bites and stings and cope with pesky critters all season long

Summertime means sun, surf, barbecues and...bugs. These creepy crawlers have their virtues (we wouldn't have flowers without them), but bug bites and stings can leave you itchy and sore. If you're allergic to their venom, these pests can pose a danger. Our strategies will help you prevent—or treat—common bug bites:

Mosquitoes Not only are their mosquito bites itchy, but mosquitoes can spread diseases such as West Nile virus. Visiting a mosquito-prone area such as a lakefront at dusk? Apply a drugstore insect repellent with 20 to 30 percent DEET or picardin to exposed skin. To apply to your face, first spray repellent onto your hands, and then rub into your skin, avoiding contact with eyes and mouth.

For added protection, you can spray your clothing with a bug repellent containing permethrin. Don't spray permethrin products directly on skin; they can cause irritation or a burning sensation.

If you do get a mosquito bite, clean the area with soap and water and apply 1 percent hydrocortisone cream (available over-the-counter) to reduce itching, says Michael Zimring, M.D., director of Travel Medicine at Mercy Medical Center in Maryland. See a doctor if you experience flu-like symptoms such as fever, severe headache and body aches. These may be signs of a mosquito-borne illness.

Ticks These eight-legged critters can infect you with Lyme disease or Rocky Mountain spotted fever—both serious but treatable. When in wooded areas or tall grasses, opt for long sleeves and pants, and sneakers or boots instead of sandals.

Use an insect repellent with DEET (on skin or clothing) or permethrin (clothing only). Always check your entire body (and your children's) for ticks after being outdoors, even in your own backyard.

If you find a tick attached to your skin, grasp it as close to the surface of your skin as possible with tweezers and pull it up and out. Then scrub the area and your hands with soap and water. Call your doctor if you develop a rash or fever within several weeks.

Stinging insects Insects with stingers, such as bees and wasps, often live in hives—but may also dwell in dirt holes, trees or the eaves of houses. They are easily sent swarming by typical summer sounds: the vibrations of a lawn mower or the hammering of a tent stake into the ground, says entomologist Daniel Suiter, Ph.D., of the University of Georgia.

If you get stung, scrape off the stinger with a credit card or fingernail or pluck it out with your fingers or tweezers. Act fast: Removing the stinger within 15 seconds of a sting can reduce your discomfort. Over-the-counter topical and oral antihistamines such as diphenhydramine also help reduce pain and swelling.

But seek medical attention right away if you are having difficulty breathing—you may be having an allergic reaction.

From our sister publication, REMEDY (Summer 2011)

Publication Review By: the Editorial Staff at

Published: 10 May 2011

Last Modified: 21 Oct 2014