Hot or Cold Therapies Can Take the Sting Out of a Bug Bite
Using either ice or heat are other options that can help ease the discomfort associated with bug bites. For example, an article in Scientific American recommends using a simple ice pack to treat painful insect bites in lieu of analgesics. The article also explains why common topical steroids like hydrocortisone aren’t always the answer—one reason being that you’re not supposed to put them on broken skin.
According to an article published in the Drug and Therapeutics Bulletin just last year, there is also little direct evidence supporting the efficacy of commercial preparations for insect bites, including antihistamines and topical corticosteroids. The authors concluded that the best course of action for mild local reactions is to simply clean the area and apply a cold compress.
Alternatively, applying heat directly to the bite also appears to relieve itchiness. One simple way is to apply a heated spoon directly to the area, as demonstrated by Lifehacker. Just hold the spoon under hot tap water for about a minute to heat the metal, then press it against the bite for a couple of minutes. Naturally, make sure the spoon is not too hot.
It shouldn’t be scalding enough to actually hurt, so please use some common sense, and make sure to test it on your own skin before applying the heated utensil to a child. The receptors that respond to heat are the same ones that respond to cold, so you will likely achieve the same benefits with a metal spoon taken from your freezer, or simply rubbing ice cubes on it. I have also found that covering the bite with tape works really well to suppress the itch.
A more high-tech version of a heated spoon is the Therapik® —a handheld wand that provides targeted heat for the treatment of itchy bites from a range of insects, including mosquitoes, bees, wasps, hornets, black flies, ants, fleas, ticks, chiggers, as well as jellyfish and stinging nettles. Gizmodo tested it, and determined that it works as advertised, giving it four out of five stars:
“You put the tip of the Therapik® onto your bug bite, then you press and hold down the button. The tip uses light to heat the bite up. You hold it there for as long as you can take it, up to a minute. The burning sensation gets pretty intense after 30 seconds or so… It actually works! Mosquito bites (the only thing we tested it with) stopped itching within a few seconds of taking it off, and in most cases they never itched again. We are officially stunned. … It works on the principle that most insect venom is thermolabile (sensitive to heat). Therapik® claims to deliver “heat in the precise temperature range necessary to deactivate the venom from over 20,000 different species of insects and sea creatures.”
A German study published in 2011 confirms the hypothesis of such claims. Testing another medical device called Bite Away, they concluded that:
“Locally administrated concentrated heat leads to fast amelioration of symptoms [swelling, pruritus and pain]. Usually an absence of symptoms is noticeable 10 minutes after administration. Pain reduction is the dominant effect.”