Ever wonder why insect bites swell? What about why insect bites and stings hurt, or why some people are allergic to certain insects? 

mosquito biting

Here's the science behind some insect attacks and how to treat them.

Do fire ants bite or sting?

Fire ants pack a double punch: they both bite and sting. Fire ants latch onto their victim's skin with their jaws (the bite), anchoring themselves so they can better insert their stinger. The fire ant's sting is the really painful part. They inject a powerful venom that causes a burning sensation. Sharp pain and/or itching can last up to a week. A raised white blister typically develops within a day or two.

How to treat a fire ant sting?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends the following treatment for fire ant stings:

  • Rub off ants briskly, as they will attach to the skin with their jaws
  • Antihistamines may help; follow directions on packaging and drowsiness may occur
  • Go to an emergency medical facility immediately if a sting causes severe chest pain, nausea, severe sweating, loss of breath, serious swelling or slurred speech.

Why do bee stings swell?

When bees sting, they jab a barbed stinger into the skin to inject venom. Most bee stings are from bumble bees and honey bees, but other bees have the ability to sting as well. Bee sting victims can experience pain and swelling around the sting site. According to the Mayo Clinic, if you have a bee sting allergy, the bee venom can trigger a more serious immune system reaction that may require immediate medical treatment. 

How to treat bee stings

The Mayo Clinic recommends to call 911 or another emergency service if you're having a serious reaction to a bee sting that suggests anaphylaxis. These symptoms include:

  • Skin reactions, including hives and itching and flushed or pale skin
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Swelling of the throat and tongue
  • A weak, rapid pulse
  • Nausea, vomiting or diarrhea
  • Dizziness or fainting
  • Loss of consciousness

People with severe allergic reactions to a bee sting have a 30-60 percent chance of anaphylaxis the next time they're stung. The Mayo Clinic recommends to talk to your doctor or an allergy specialist about prevention measures, such as allergy shots, to avoid similar reactions in case you're stung again.

If you've only had a mild reaction to a bee sting, then the Mayo Clinic says that swelling and pain in most people go away within a few hours. The Mayo Clinic recommends to make an appointment to see your doctor if:

  • Bee sting symptoms don't go away within a few days
  • You've had other symptoms of an allergic response to a bee sting

Why do mosquito bites itch?

Female mosquitoes feed on blood to get protein for their young. They have mouthparts that pierce the skin, suck blood and inject saliva. Proteins in this saliva can cause an immune system reaction that results in itching and bumps on your skin. This reaction is what causes mosquito bites to itch.

How to treat mosquito bites

Mosquito bites are common, and if you have itchy red bumps that you’re concerned about, you can ask your medical professional for treatment advice. However, if mosquito bites seem to be associated with more-serious warning signs, such as fever, headache, body aches and signs of infection, the Mayo Clinic recommends to contact your doctor.

What causes allergic reactions to insect bites and stings?

Your immune system produces antibodies that defend your body against foreign substances. This reaction is helpful when it protects you from harmful substances, such as certain viruses, bacteria or toxins (including those injected during insect bites).

In some cases, however, a person's immune system overreacts to some substances, setting off a chemical chain reaction that produces allergy symptoms. Allergic reactions aren’t usually life-threatening, but some people can experience anaphylaxis, a severe and potentially life-threatening allergic reaction. Stings from bees, wasps, yellow jackets, hornets and fire ants can trigger anaphylaxis in some people.

You may be at greater risk for anaphylaxis if you have:

  • Personal history of anaphylaxis. If you’ve experienced anaphylaxis once, your risk of having another reaction increases. Your allergic reaction may become more severe in the future.
  • Asthma or allergies

Contact Terminix for help removing wasps, fire ants, mosquitoes or any other troublesome insects or pests from your yard and home.