Things that bite in the night
March 12, 2007 12:29 PM   Subscribe

What the hell can I ask the doctor for to treat the 75+ insect bites I've just woken up and found myself covered with?

Background: I woke up at 3am and found my legs and back literally covered with insect bites. I counted up to 75 before giving up to concentrate on scouring my bedding to find the culprit(s).

I found three very small pale brown bugs with wings. I killed them. Victory! No fresh bites for the last two hours.

But. The bites that were at first small, itchy raised white lumps, like mosquito bites have... developed. Into five cent piece size hives. One spectacularly awful hive near my knee is about 7cm across. They don't itch so much as throb. They're hot to the touch and there's a red rash around them.

I look like something out of a medical journal.

The second it's light, I'm trekking to the hospital.

I'd like to know what the hell I can ask for to make it better - if anything? This is way, way beyond calamine lotion. A previous thread mentions topical sulfadiazine, and I've also heard antihistamines can reduce insect bite swelling.
posted by t0astie to Health & Fitness (30 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Are you sure they had wings? Bedbugs can be small, pale, and brown, but don't have wings.
posted by suasponte at 12:42 PM on March 12, 2007

Best answer: I'd like to know what the hell I can ask for to make it better - if anything? This is way, way beyond calamine lotion. A previous thread mentions topical sulfadiazine, and I've also heard antihistamines can reduce insect bite swelling.

Bring the dead bug with you, if you can, in a sealed sandwich bag or what have you. Yes, gross, but it can perhaps assist the physician treating you.

And in regards to your question about treatments above and beyond calamine... that's probably something best determined by your doctor once they've examined you and seen the bug that bit you. If they do try to pass it off with a calamine or a Benadryl, you can then state that it's unbearably itchy and you're going to need something strong.

This question has made me itchy just thinking about it. Good luck at the doctors!
posted by jerseygirl at 12:50 PM on March 12, 2007

I have taken antihistamines (like Benadryl in the US) to reduce bug bites - they don't do much for the itching (believe me, once the painkillers injected into your blood wear off, the bites will itch like crazy!), but they reduce the swelling. There are also over-the-counter topical cortisones creams that somewhat help with the itching and swelling.
posted by muddgirl at 12:53 PM on March 12, 2007

wow, that sounds really, really unpleasant.

I'd be very surprised if you don't get a prescription for some sort of antihistamine, given that there's so many bites and such a reaction to them.

I'd also be very surprised if only three bugs (whatever kind they are) caused 75+ bites in the course of half a night. Look into exterminators or other threads about fleas / bedbugs.
posted by CKmtl at 12:53 PM on March 12, 2007

Best answer: in the meantime to reduce the itching try hydrocortisone cream works much better than calamine
posted by estronaut at 1:48 PM on March 12, 2007

Best answer: Things could be worse.
posted by danb at 1:53 PM on March 12, 2007

Careful with OTC antihistamine creams. Some people, myself included, are actually allergic to the active ingredient (diphenhydramine) when applied topically. What started as mild poison ivy ended with a few rounds of cortisone shots and prescription steroids.
posted by sonofslim at 2:16 PM on March 12, 2007

Best answer: I bet you'll get a nice shot of predniznone and sent home for an oatmeal bath.

And with regard to kika's righteous indignation, the guy had sores all over his body, and he was freaking out in the dark, man!

Besides, given the crappiness of most HMO medical centers' so-called "urgent care" health factories, there's nothing wrong with doing a little research or asking around before you head in for your precious 3 minutes with a harried doctor who's main goal is to cycle through 25 patients an hour. It can't hurt health care consumers to be armed with a few ideas.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 2:17 PM on March 12, 2007 [1 favorite]

Best answer: kika, I see where you're coming from, but t0astie's obviously not in the United States, and these things don't work the same in every country. The only country I've lived in other than the US is Spain, and there you can walk into a pharmacy, describe your symptoms, and they'll give you drugs then and there that you wouldn't get OTC in the US. So, who knows what procedure's like where t0astie is?

I myself am very sensitive to insect bites too, and while I've never had anything quite this extreme happen to me, I do find that topical benadryl has helped with both swelling and itching--in fact, I've generally been amazed how quickly it dulls the itching. Maybe there's something similar but stronger that would be appropriate for a situation like this?
posted by lampoil at 2:18 PM on March 12, 2007

Best answer: I had a horrible mosquito attack a few years ago...I couldn't sleep, it was awful. Taking benadryl or another anti-hystamine and also icing your legs and back will help a lot. If OTC meds don't help (I bought $30 worth of junk at the drug store and it didn't help at all), your doc can definitely rx something to soothe it. My dermatologist gave me Desonide cream which is a lifesaver. It's the only thing that stops the itch for me. Expensive but worth it.
posted by radioamy at 2:21 PM on March 12, 2007

Have you done a 'google' for bedbugs?
posted by JayRwv at 2:24 PM on March 12, 2007

Well, when my then infant daughter managed to get attacked by fire ants (long story involving dark brown carpet and new infestation ) the doc's office told me to give her benadryl.

I sure hope those weren't bedbugs, btw.
posted by konolia at 2:40 PM on March 12, 2007

If they were fire ants, you're looking at scars. I had one bite last June and the scar is still on my ankle.
posted by santojulieta at 3:26 PM on March 12, 2007

Best answer: One of the things the doctor is going to need to determine is whether the bugs were sucking blood (bad) or laying eggs (much, much worse). In the latter case you'll need a lot more than just symptomatic relief.

That's why taking a dead bug with you is a good idea.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 3:27 PM on March 12, 2007

Best answer: I'm pretty sensitive to insect bites myself, and get welts from mosquitos. Benedryl and ice.
posted by desuetude at 3:28 PM on March 12, 2007

I'd recommend seeing a dermatologist or an infectious disease specialist if thats an option for you.
posted by ruwan at 3:40 PM on March 12, 2007

Mod note: Some off-topic debating removed. More answering, less snipey go-see-a-doctoring, please.
posted by cortex (staff) at 4:06 PM on March 12, 2007

At the allergist where I get shots, the standard post-shot treatment to stop the itching and swelling is "Itch-X Gel" and an ice pack. So I'd recommend leaving them alone as much as possible and if one starts to flare up, apply an ice pack. Pick some up and drop them in the freezer. Get the soft, bendable kind if you can. And any of the OTC drugs mentioned above.
posted by chairface at 5:06 PM on March 12, 2007

Follow up please and let us know how you are and what was biting you.
posted by jerseygirl at 5:41 PM on March 12, 2007

You can try making a paste with water and meat tenderizer. Dab it on the bites. The ingredients in the meat tenderizer help break down the proteines the little beasties left in you when biting. Good Luck!
posted by JujuB at 8:15 PM on March 12, 2007

You don't need to ask a doctor for this: tiger balm on bites reduces itching. Good luck.
posted by kiita at 8:32 PM on March 12, 2007

Benadryl makes a wonderful gel. I am very allergic to any bugs and I have to carry it with me in the summer - it with sooth any itching and irritation right away.
posted by jesirose at 9:30 PM on March 12, 2007

Edit: I also have a scar from a fire ant, like santojulieta. Vitamin E helps prevent those scars, so add that on too.
posted by jesirose at 9:32 PM on March 12, 2007

Response by poster: Thank you everyone. Unfortunately, I missed most of the thread as my internet connection went down and then, after dragging myself to hospital, I spent the day passed out from the antihistamine prescribed.

To those who suggested I didn't need to see a doctor:no. Really. I did. The welts joined together and are now covered in a blotchy red rash. Most of the back of my legs, my arse, and half my back is covered by the redness. And then my face puffed up. It's. Not. Good.

And I was posting for advice before going to hospital because, well, MC Lo Carb said it. Where I am, you do well to know what you need *before* you go to hospital. The doctor may... just not know.

The antihistamine doesn't seem to have helped much, so I'm going back to the doctor tonight and I'll ask about cortisone creams - thanks.

Thanks too to those who suggested taking the bugs...It seems like they're not the culprits after all. Took them to the Tropical Health Unit here and an entomologist ID'd them as a type of non-bloodsucking non-human-munching beetle.

I just don't know what else could've done it. None of my housemates are bitten. I live in a clean, modern unit with flyscreens and aircon. My mattress is new. My bedding is new. There are no signs of bedbugs or fleas at all and it just came on out of the blue at 3am.

And thanks danb. That cracked me up. You're right, it could be worse.
posted by t0astie at 11:58 PM on March 12, 2007

Are you sure they were insect bites and not an allergic reaction to something else? It sounds to me more like an allergic reaction (with the hives and everything, and hives can sometimes start out as you describe), especially in light of the entomologist's statement. Since your bedding and mattress are new, it's possible they have something in/on them which you're allergic to or have become allergic to.
posted by biscotti at 5:07 AM on March 13, 2007

Ask about an anti-inflammatory, as well. Based on your follow-up, I agree it sounds more like an allergic reaction, and a shot of prednisone may be in order.

If the bedding is new, you could've reacted to some chemical in them. Or, did you eat anything unusual? Some food sensitivities can present as hives, and the reaction isn't necessarily immediate after eating.

Bedbug bites are very distinctive...they occur in a little line. Mosquitos you would have heard buzzing about your head. (And it would have to be plural to get that many bites that quickly.)

(For the record, IANAD.)
posted by desuetude at 6:31 AM on March 13, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks biscotti... New isn't brand spanking...had them for about four months with no problems.

My other prime suspect is midges - too teeny to always spot, plentiful in the area and horrid bitey.

I think the hives might be an allergic reaction to the bites, if that makes sense?

Sigh. I've chemical bombed the room so with a bit of luck that'll kill whatever the evil beasties are.

And a return trip to the hospital netted some steroids so I'm really hoping that'll do the trick. So, so so sore and hot.
posted by t0astie at 6:32 AM on March 13, 2007

Best answer: Ugh, I've had that happen... but in my case, there were no bedbug culprits, just good old chronic disease. Hives suck, but I've learned how to live with them. While it's likely that with 24 hours and an exterminator visit, you'll be OK, in case of a recap:

Your doctor probably will give you prednisone. Take it AS DIRECTED and then stop. Steroids are nasty, and prednisone really weakens your immune system to the point where if someone sneezes on you you will catch a virus.

I've found Benadryl doesn't do crap for hives, nor does "Claritin hives" since it's just re-labeled normal Claritin (loratidine). What has worked for me is Tagamet and Zantac . Benadryl and Claritin calm an excess dispersal of H1 histamines. Tagamet and Zantac get H2 hystamines.
Talk to your doctor - it's relatively difficult to OD on antihistimanes if they're not sleep inducers like Benadryl, but everybody's chemistry is a little different so you never really know how you'll react to what you're on right away.

It's also a good idea to avoid eating anything with vinegar in it, as that will aggravate the itching. However, applying vinegar can soothe the burning hives sensation where oatmeal sometimes fails, and aloe (NOT the Lidocaine kind, that will make hiving worse) is also very soothing on hive-ridden skin.
posted by medea42 at 2:27 PM on March 13, 2007

Can you post a photo?
posted by spankbot at 4:10 PM on March 13, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks medea42. Yes, it is prednisone. And thank GOD it seems to be working. Thanks for the tip about it compromising your immune system - I'll be careful and the script is for three days worth only.

No spankbot, I will not be posting a photo.
posted by t0astie at 6:26 PM on March 13, 2007

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