First Aid for Bites and Stings

Sooner or later most folks have an encounter with biting or stinging insects. Most bites stimulate a reaction to the venom or other protein that the insect or animal injects into you. The reaction can result in redness, swelling, pain and itching at the site of the bite or sting.

Some people have a severe allergic reaction which may result in abdominal cramps, nausea and vomiting, swelling of face, lips or throat, hives, breathing problems or shock. If you or someone in your family experiences these symptoms, call 911 and get to an emergency room as soon as possible. A severe reaction is known as anaphylaxis and can be life-threatening. It should be treated immediately.

If you have ever experienced this, you should get a prescription for epinephrine from a doctor. This is available as an injection and has an “auto injector” that you can use to shoot into a muscle. Epinephrine acts quickly to raise the blood pressure, stimulate heart rate and reduce swelling and ease breathing. Epi-pens should be carried with you at all times, especially when you are outdoors and may be a considerable distance from emergency help.[1]

Usually when honey bees sting, they usually leave their stinger behind. Since it is connected to their intestines, they stay, too, and the bee dies. Wasps can sting more than once and live to tell about it. Generally they are not agressive and only sting in self defense. Some bees like africanized honey bees, yellow jackets or hornets are more likely to swarm and sting as a group. Multiple stings can be a medical emergency, especially for young children and the elderly. In most cases, bee stings do not require a visit to your doctor, unless you have multiple stings or a severe allergic reaction.[2]

Beekeeper, Claire Goodall, has some tips on what to do when you get stung:

  • If you’re near a hive, calmly move away. do not swat, or run or wave your arms
  • Quickly remove the stinger, as it releases pheromones that signal to other bees you are a threat
  • If the stinger is still in the skin, remove it by gently scraping across the skin with a flat-edged object like a credit card, don’t grab it and pull it out. The venom sac is attached and you will squeeze more poison into the sting site
  • Wash the area with soap and water
  • Place a cold compress or an ice pack (wrapped in a cloth to protect the skin) on the sting or bite for about 10 minutes to reduce pain and swelling; follow with calamine lotion or antihistamine cream

She also recommends these 5 home remedies:

  1. 1 drop of Lavender essential oil and a small amout of liquid neutral oil if diluting
  2. Mud – add enough water to dry dirt to make a thick but easliy applicable mud paste. Cover completely and when you get home, rinse clean and pat dry.
  3. Bee balm – beeswax and essential oil
  4. Baking soda paste with water, rinse clean before reapplying to soothe itching and swelling
  5. Rhubarb juice

First Aid for Spider Bites

Most spider bites are harmless. Symptoms appear several hours to a day after the bite. You may notice redness, swelling, pain, or itching. There are two kinds of spiders that may cause a more serious reaction: Black widow and the brown recluse.

The black widow spider is about a half-inch long. It has a red hourglass marking on the underside of its black abdomen. Some black widows have red spots on the upper surface of the abdomen with crosswise red bars on the underside. The 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, fever, abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting.

The brown recluse spider is larger than the black widow – about one 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 pointing toward the rear. This spider bite causes damage to the skin at the bite area. About eight hours following the bite, redness and intense pain occurs, followed by the development of a blister. When the blister breaks down a deep ulcer is left in the skin. Expect fever, rash, nausea and a skin infection at the ulcer.

If you recognize a bite as that of a black widow or brown recluse spider, seek immediate medical attention.

First Aid Care

  • First aid care for most spider bites is similar to insect bites and stings
  • Wash the area with soap and water; apply cold compress for 10 minutes;
  • follow with calamine lotion, antihistamine cream or baking soda paste several times a day until itching and pain stop

First Aid Care for brown recluse or black widow spider bite

  • Clean wound with soap and water
  • Help person remain calm to reduce spread of venom; do not apply a tourniquet
  • Apply cold compress
  • Get victim to medical care as as soon as possible. Take a picture to help medical personnel identify it
  • Avoid giving food or drink [3]



Snakes are more afraid of people than you are of them. Most do not act agressively toward humans without provocation. Snakes are meat eaters and catch prey which includes insects, birds, small mammals, and other reptiles, sometimes including other snakes. Of the 3,000 snake species world wide only about 25 species of venomous snakes are found in the United States. They are cold blooded, are unable to increase their body temperature and are unable to stay active when it is cold outside. Maine, Alaska and Hawaii do not have any poisonous snakes in the wild.

Poisonous snakes inject venom using modified salivary glands. During a bite, the venom passes from the gland through a duct into the snake’s fangs and finally into its prey. The venom proteins are divided into four categories:
1. Cytotoxins cause local tissue damage
2. Hemotoxins cause internal bleeding
3. Neurotoxins affect the nervous system
4. Cardiotoxins act directly on the heart [4]

A poisonous snake bite is a medical emergency. Quick treatment can minimize symptoms and aid recovery!

First Aid Care

  • Summon medical help immediately. Call National Poison Control Center hotline (800-222-1222) for instructions.
  • Help the person to remain calm and lie quietly. Movement can spread the venom more rapidly. Do not raise the bite area above the heart level.
  • Remove constricting jewelry or clothing around the bite area, as swelling may occur.
  • If there are symptoms of shock, such as dizziness, weakness, pale and clamy skin, shortness of breath, and increased heart rate, have the person lie quietly with his/her feet elevated 12 inches (unless the bite is in this area). Cover with a blanket to maintain body warmth

Steps NOT to take

  • Do not endanger yourself by trying to capture the snake; take a picture if you have time before he gets away.
  • Do not cut or suck the area of the snake bite.
  • Do not wash the snake bite (residual venom at the bite area can help medical personnel to identify the type of snake for proper treatment).
  • Do not apply cold to the bite.
  • Do not give the victim anything to eat or drink or any pain medication. [5]


Billie Nicholson, Editor
November 2016

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