Bug bites are never any fun, but sometimes a few itchy lumps are the price you’ve got to pay for an afternoon spent hiking in the woods or digging in the vegetable garden. But when do bites and stings go from mildly annoying to serious medical concern? Here are some of the ones you may experience stateside—and how to know when it’s time to visit the doctor.
Bedbugs are more of a nuisance than a threat to your health, the CDC says, but that doesn’t mean you should ignore them. Aside from being extremely itchy, an infestation in your mattress will keep you up at night and cause you to miss out on valuable sleep. Bedbug bites are small red bumps that look similar to mosquito bites—often you’ll notice them in a straight line on your back, stomach, or legs. Bites can be treated with a cortisone cream or another anti-itch remedy—the bigger challenge is getting the insects out of your house. To find out which methods work, check out How To Get Rid Of Bedbugs.
Bee + Wasp Stings
Bee and wasp stings are annoying, but typically they’re not a big deal unless you’re allergic or you’ve been stung multiple times. In most cases, you’ll end up with a painful red welt that may have a white dot in the center. If you’re stung by a bee, the Mayo Clinic advises removing the stinger as soon as you can with tweezers or your fingernails to limit exposure to the bee’s venom (wasps, including hornets and yellow jackets, don’t leave stingers behind, so they can sting you more than once).
Insect stings get scary, though, if you’re allergic to the bees’ and wasps’ venom, and you should seek emergency medical treatment immediately if your throat begins to swell and you have difficulty breathing. People who know they’re allergic should carry an epinephrine auto-injector, like an EpiPen, which they can use to inject medicine directly into the thigh if they’re stung. If you’re not allergic but you’ve been stung more than a dozen times—say, because you accidentally stepped on a nest—you may experience symptoms like nausea, vomiting, fever, and vertigo because of a buildup of the venom in your body, and, according to the Mayo Clinic, you should seek medical care.
Related: 6 Ways To Keep Wasps Away From You
Scabies is actually more than bug bites—it’s a parasite infestation caused by microscopic mites. The female burrows into your epidermis to lay her eggs. Yuck! Scabies causes an insanely itchy, pimply rash at the infestation site and resembles the worst acne breakout you’ve ever had.
According to the CDC, scabies spreads like wildfire, so it’s important to get treated right away if you think you have it. Your doctor will likely prescribe a lotion that kills the mites and their eggs. It’s important to note that the only way to get scabies is from other humans (no blaming it on your furry friends), so if you do have scabies, encourage your partner and other people who live in your household to get checked, too.
Most of us expect to get at least a few mosquito bites each summer. They’re itchy, annoying bumps that go away within a few days—typically no big deal. However, mosquitoes do carry a number of diseases, though only a handful are present in the United States. Still, now we live in the age of Zika—a mosquito-borne disease that can cause serious birth defects—so it pays to be more vigilant, especially now that the CDC says cases of mosquito-transmitted Zika have been reported in nearby Puerto Rico. The agency says common Zika symptoms that accompany the bites include fever, rash, joint pain, and red eyes. West Nile Virus, another mosquito-borne illness reported in all of the lower 48 states, is also accompanied by fever-like symptoms (though many people infected won’t get sick at all). The bottom line is that if you’ve been bitten recently and start to develop a fever or other symptoms, make a doctor’s appointment right away.
Ticks are the most sinister of tiny bloodsucking parasites. They’re infamous for causing bull’s-eye rashes that could signal Lyme disease, but ticks can also carry a dozen other nasty diseases—including southern tick-associated rash illness (STARI) and Rocky Mountain spotted fever. The latter produces a rash of small pink splotches typically beginning on the wrists, arms, and ankles. To further complicate matters, the CDC says only 70 to 80 percent of people infected with Lyme disease develop a bull’s-eye rash, which looks almost identical to the lesion caused by STARI. If you discover a tick on you, remove it quickly with tweezers by gripping it as close to the skin as possible.
Related: How To Avoid Ticks In The Woods
According to the CDC, you should visit a doctor if you develop fever, chills, or a suspicious rash within a few weeks of removing a tick. (In most cases, your physician will prescribe a dose of antibiotics.) Tick-borne illnesses can be difficult to diagnose, however, because symptoms can vary widely and many people who get infected never see the tick in the first place. Make it a habit to check yourself after all outdoor activities.