First Aid for Bites & Stings
Nearly everyone has had an insect bite or sting at one time or another. Learn how to treat bites and insect stings, and respond to severe aller...

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Nearly everyone has had an insect bite or sting at one time or another. Most bites or stings, whether from mosquitoes, flies, bees or wasps, result in a very mild reaction to the venom or other protein that the insect has injected into you. This results in redness, minor swelling, and pain or itching at the site of the bite or sting. 

Some people develop a severe allergic reaction to an insect sting, usually that of a bee or wasp. A severe reaction may result in abdominal cramps, nausea and vomiting, swelling of the face, lips or throat, hives, breathing problems, and shock. Anyone who has ever had a severe reaction to an insect sting should request a medication called epinephrine from their health care provider. Epinephrine is injected into the muscle through an “auto injector” that is easy to use.  It acts quickly on the body to raise the blood pressure, stimulate the heart, and improve swelling and breathing. It should be carried with you at all times, but especially when outdoors.

First aid care for insect bites or stings:

  1. If the stinger is still in the skin, remove it by scraping gently across the skin with a flat-edged object (such as a credit card).
  2. Wash the area with soap and water.
  3. Place a cold compress or an ice pack (wrapped in a cloth) on the site of the sting or bite for about 10 minutes to reduce pain and swelling.
  4. Apply calamine lotion, an antihistamine cream, or a paste of baking soda and water to the area several times a day until itching and pain are resolved.

If there are signs of a severe allergic reaction:

  1. Ask someone to call for medical help or call 911 if you're alone.
  2. Ask the person whether he carries an epinephrine injector, and if so, assist him to use it according to label directions.
  3. Help the person to remain calm and lie quietly, with legs elevated. If vomiting, turn on his or her side to prevent choking. Do not give anything to drink.
  4. If the person becomes unconscious and stops breathing, begin CPR and continue until medical help arrives.


Most spider bites are harmless. Several hours to a day after the bite, you may notice symptoms similar to that of an insect sting or bite, such as redness, swelling, pain or itching. But there are two kinds of spiders that can cause a more serious reaction: the black widow and the brown recluse. Both of these spiders can be easily identified. The black widow spider is about a half inch long. It has a black body with a red hourglass marking on the underside of its abdomen. Some black widows have red spots on the upper surface of the abdomen with crosswise red bars on the underside. Black widow spider venom causes problems with the nervous system. Within a few hours of a bite, you may notice intense pain at the site of the bite, along with chills or fever, abdominal pain, nausea, and vomiting. 

The brown recluse spider is larger than the black widow, about an inch in length. It varies in color from a yellowish tan to a dark brown. It has a violin shape on the surface of the upper body, with the base of the violin toward the head and the neck of the violin pointing toward the rear. The brown recluse spider bite causes damage to the skin at the area of the bite. About 8 hours following the bite, redness and intense pain occurs, followed by the development of a blister. When the blister breaks down, there is a deep ulcer left in the skin. You may have a fever, rash, and nausea from a brown recluse bite, as well as the potential for an infection in the ulcerated skin area.

First aid care for most spider bites is similar to that of insect bites and stings. You should wash the area with soap and water, apply a cool compress, and put calamine lotion or antihistamine cream on the area. If you see the spider that bit someone and you recognize it as a black widow or a brown recluse spider, seek medical attention immediately.

First aid care for a brown recluse or black widow spider bite:

  1. Clean the skin with soap and water.
  2. Help the person remain calm to reduce the spread of venom; do not apply a tourniquet.
  3. Apply a cold compress or ice pack wrapped in a cloth.
  4. Get the victim to medical care as soon as possible. If possible, catch the spider or take a picture of it to help medical personnel to identify it.


While many snakes are harmless, there are a few, such as the cobra, copperhead, coral, cottonmouth, and rattlesnake, which can be poisonous and even deadly.

Symptoms of a poisonous snake bite vary depending upon the snake, but can include:

  • weakness
  • dizziness
  • fainting
  • convulsions
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • diarrhea
  • loss of muscle coordination
  • rapid pulse
  • swelling in the area of the bite

If someone has been bitten by a poisonous snake, it's a medical emergency. Quick treatment can minimize symptoms and aid in recovery.

First aid care for snake bites: 

  1. Summon medical help immediately. In addition, you can call the National Poison Control Center hotline (800-222-1222) for instructions.
  2. Help the person to remain calm and lie quietly. Movement can spread the venom more rapidly, so try to keep the body still, especially in the area of the bite. Do not raise the bitten area above the level of the heart.
  3. Remove constricting jewelry or clothing in the area of the bite, as swelling may occur.
  4. If there are symptoms of shock, such as dizziness, weakness, pale and clammy skin, shortness of breath and increased heart rate, have the person lie quietly with the feet elevated about 12 inches. Cover him or her with a blanket to maintain body warmth.

Things you must not do:

  • Do not waste time hunting for the snake.
  • Do not endanger yourself by trying to capture the snake.
  • Do not cut or suck the area of the snake bite.
  • Do not wash the snake bite (residual venom at the area of the bite can help medical personnel to identify the type of snake and treat the bite).
  • Do not apply cold to the bite.
  • Do not give the victim anything to eat or drink, nor any pain medication.
Written by: Linda Hepler, RN
Edited by:
Medically Reviewed by: Jennifer Monti, MD, MPH
Published: Jul 20, 2011
Last Updated: Jan 22, 2014
Published By: Healthline Networks, Inc.
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