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How to Treat a Bug Bite at Home (and When to Head to the Hospital)

Most bug bites can be treated at home and don't need medical attention. Here's what you need to know.

by Margaret O'Malley /
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Millions of Americans are bitten by mosquitos and other insects every year and most of those bites are itchy and painful, but not very serious.

If your camping trip or day at the beach has left you riddled with pink, itchy spots, you'll want to know when to treat at home and when it's better left to the professionals. To get the bottom of it, we teamed up with the special effects team at SyFy Channel's Face Off and Dr. John Torres, NBC News Medical Correspondent, to create realistic bug bites, both minor and more severe, to show you how to treat a them at home — and when you should head to the hospital.

Dr. Torres says that the majority of the bites he sees in emergency rooms don't actually need professional medical attention, but some do. "The number one thing you want to look for is any sign of infection," says Dr. Torres. Here's what you need to know:

When to Treat a Bug Bite at Home

  • The bite mark is red, but the redness hasn't spread past the bite.
  • There's no pus coming from the bite.
  • The number of bites is limited.

How to Treat a Bug Bite at Home

  • Step 1: Apply an ice pack to the affected area for 20 minutes.
  • Step 2: Apply an antihistamine cream to reduce itching.
  • Step 3: Use calamine lotion if the itching is more severe.
  • Step 4: Soak in a warm oatmeal bath.
  • Step 5: Apply bandages to the bug bites to avoid scratching and infection.
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RELATED: How to Treat a Burn at Home (and When to Head to the ER)

When to Head to the ER to Treat a Bug Bite

  • There's redness surrounding the entire bite and it seems to be spreading.
  • The bite is swollen.
  • The bite is oozing pus, a yellow or greenish fluid.

If you have any of the symptoms above, go to the ER immediately for professional treatment to avoid infections and scarring. "You want to get that redness and infection under control so it doesn't spread and you can get back to normal," says Dr. Torres.

Related

According to the Mayo Clinic, bites from mosquitoes carrying certain viruses, like West Nile or Zika, or parasites can cause severe illness. If you experience fever, body aches, headaches, please contact your doctor immediately or head to your local emergency room.

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