Bug bites can be hard to identify, especially when there are so many household critters that can leave you with a bite.
While most insects you’ll encounter are harmless, there are a few specific bites that might warrant a trip to the doctor and it’s important to be able to identify these potentially dangerous bites.
From tick bites to wasp and hornet stings, each bug leaves behind distinct marks and symptoms that are worth knowing. Stock up on calamine lotion and check out this guide to identifying some of the most common bug bites and the symptoms associated with each.
Dangerous tick bites sometimes look like a bull’s-eye.
While most ticks don’t transmit disease, there is a wide variety of illness you can contract from ticks including Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever.
Contrary to what you might have heard, ticks do not intentionally jump or drop onto their hosts. They simply crawl or hitch a ride on plant material, according to the CDC.
A tick bite that has not led to an infection may look like a small red circle. There may be minimal itching or swelling, according to John Hopkins Rheumatology.
A bite from a tick carrying Lyme disease may leave you with a bulls-eye shaped rash involving concentric rings of reddened and lighter coloured skin. This pattern may develop up to a month after the bite and never develops at all in up to 30% of people. This rash is not usually painful, according to the CDC.
Bedbug bites often show up in a line.
Bedbug bites have a distinctive, clustered look to them. You probably won’t feel the bite of a bedbug, but you’ll certainly notice the groupings of red marks that often form a line across your skin, according to the CDC.
These bites are itchy, but the amount of discomfort varies from person to person. Some people experience a severe allergic reaction to bedbug saliva and develop an intense itch between 24 hours to three days later.
The American Academy of Dermatology recommends enlisting the help of a pest-control company to clear your home of bed bugs, and to head to a dermatologist if you have many bites or a bite that looks infected.
Mosquito bites are puffy and itchy.
Mosquito bites look like round pink or red bumps. They’re usually itchy and appear very soon after being bitten, according to Healthline. You typically won’t feel anything while the bite is occurring.
While mosquitoes don’t have any venom of their own, they can carry dangerous diseases like the West Nile virus, malaria, and the Zika virus. Symptoms of these illnesses might not appear for up to four weeks, so get yourself checked by a doctor if you think you’ve been infected, according to the CDC.
Mite bites are extremely itchy and could look like a rash.
Mites or chiggers cause bites that look like small, red dots. They are usually extremely itchy and can even look like a solid skin rash if many bites are close together.
Chiggers are a type of mite that liquifies the skin around a bite so that they can eat it. If you’re dealing with a chigger bite, you might notice the surrounding skin harden in response to this reaction, according to WebMD.
Mites can cause scabies, which is a contagious condition in which mites burrow into the skin and lay eggs. According to the CDC, scabies frequently presents in places where direct and prolonged skin-to-skin contact is common such as nursing homes, child care facilities, and between sexual partners.
Ant bites are usually painful and can become infected.
Most household black ants are harmless and do not bite, but sugar ants, fire ants, and carpenter ants can deliver a painful sting, according to WebMD.
If you are bitten by fire ants, you can expect to see small red blisters and could also develop tiny white pustules on the site of the bite, reported PestWorld. Do not try to drain or open the blisters as they could become infected. Carpenter ants actually apply formic acid into their bites, which makes them extremely painful.
These ant bites should resolve after three to seven days, though scratching the bites could cause scars.
Lice bites are almost too small to see.
Head lice are tiny, parasitic insects that live on the human scalp and feed on blood. Their bites are usually almost too small to see but can itch fiercely.
The CDC reported that head lice do not carry any disease or bacteria, though some people may develop a large rash from multiple lice bites. Body lice, however, can carry disease, according to the CDC. Lice are spread via direct person-to-person contact and cannot jump or live longer than 48 hours off of a human host.
Horsefly bites are painful and potentially dangerous.
Horseflies are common around livestock and in rural environments. The bite itself is painful and you will most likely be aware it is happening, according to the UK National Health Service. The bite of a horsefly may look like a red circle with a pale center area.
Some people experience allergic reactions to horsefly bites with symptoms including shortness of breath and swelling.
Wasp and hornet stings can stay swollen for up to a week.
A wasp or hornet resembles a bee in coloration, but they’re not the same. A wasp sting feels like a sharp, sudden pain followed by the formation of a red and swollen mark, according to the National Health Service.
Though wasp stings usually calm down after a few hours, some stings can persist for days and lead to swelling that lasts up to a week.
Midge or gnat bites look like mosquito bites.
A bite from a midge or gnat will usually present as a small, itchy red bump. The National Health Service said these bumps can be painful and sometimes swell up quite a bit.
Occasionally, midge bites may develop blisters that fill with fluid. It’s important not to pick at these as breaking the blisters could lead to scarring.
A black widow spider bite has two fang marks.
While most spider bites will only leave you with a small, swollen red mark, a few household spiders can be deadly.
The bite of a black widow spider looks like a red patch with two puncture marks. The spider itself has a distinctive red hourglass pattern on its body. You might feel the bite or you might not notice. Pain and swelling will set in after about 40 minutes, and within eight hours you might feel muscle pain, stomach pain, nausea, vomiting, and breathing difficulties, according to Healthline.
Head to the doctor if you suspect you have been bitten by a black widow spider.
Brown recluse spider bites might form a blister and need swift medical attention.
Brown recluse spiders are native to Midwestern and Southeastern states. While these spiders are extremely dangerous, they are also very rare. All reported deaths from brown recluse spider bites in the US have been in children younger than seven years old, according to AL.com.
Brown recluse bites are usually painless, though a white or light-coloured blister might develop at the site of the bite. As time passes, this bite could start to look like a bruise or turn crusty. Symptoms usually appear within two to eight hours and include severe pain and itching, nausea, vomiting, fever, and muscle pain, according to Emedicinehealth.
The bite of a brown recluse spider is very dangerous and can lead to seizures, kidney failure, and coma. If left untreated, a bite from a brown recluse spider might also cause a necrotic lesion, which is basically an area of dead tissue. Head to your doctor or the local hospital for this one.
Bee stings look like hives and could still contain a stinger.
You’ll probably know if you’ve been stung by a bee, as the sting is painful. The stung area will likely appear as a raised light bump with a red dot in the center and is usually surrounded by pink or irritated skin. The site could still contain the detached stinger of the bee.
Bee stings can result in a severe allergic reaction in some people that can lead to swelling in the lungs and throat, called anaphylaxis. This can lead to death if not immediately treated. Other severe symptoms include trouble breathing, dizziness, vomiting, and cardiac arrest, according to Mayo Clinic.
If you’ve been stung by a bee before, your body might develop an immune response to subsequent stings that can lead to severe swelling at the sting site or across large areas of your body.
Flea bites are small and scattered.
Flea bites typically look like tiny hives or spots. According to Fleabites.net, they might appear in groups of three or four and are frequently itchy. Flea bites are coming around the ankles and legs but can appear anywhere. If pressed by a finger, a flea bite rash may turn white.
Fleas are harmless in themselves, but in incredibly rare cases they may carry the bacteria that causes plague. However, only 17 people in the past 10 years have been contracted plague in the United States, according to the CDC.
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