19 Pictures of Common Bug Bites and How to Identify Their Symptoms

Skeeter syndrome is commonly mistaken for a type of skin infection known as cellulitis, says Kara Wada, MD, an allergist and immunologist at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center in Columbus.

You may notice that bug bites pick up in the summer, when you’re outside more often and exposing more skin, but they can occur any time of year—especially if you happen to be preyed upon inside of your home. (Spiders, bed bugs, and fleas don’t hibernate in the winter, sadly.) There are ways to deter the critters from coming your way, especially if you use insect repellent or bug spray, but there’s no perfect solution to ward off the pests.

Mild itchiness and pain are normal reactions to insect bites and stings, but if you experience anything more severe than these, including shortness of breath and swelling away from the original site, you should contact a doctor or seek medical attention immediately. It’s possible you could be having a severe allergic reaction, suffering from an insect-borne disease, or experiencing an infection.

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“Most apparent repellency failures with DEET are due to misapplications, so care should be taken to apply it thoroughly, though avoiding the eyes and mucous membranes of the nose, and to reapply when necessary,” Conlon says. Reapplying is crucial to maintain the DEET vapor barrier above the skin that keeps mosquitoes from biting, he says.

With skeeter syndrome, the mark is bigger and longer lasting. Welts can swell from 2 to 10 centimeters in diameter (up to about 4 inches) within an hour of the bite and progress over the next several days, Dr. Newman says. Bumps can be itchy, red, painful, and warm to the touch.

For kids in particular, natural immunity can take years to develop because it depends on how often they’re exposed to mosquitoes, according to a case study of toddlers and preschoolers with skeeter syndrome. Parents often try to keep kids with severe reactions away from mosquitoes, which stretches out the time it takes for children to build immunity.

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“Skeeter syndrome is the result of an allergic reaction to proteins in mosquito saliva,” Newman says. “There is no simple blood test to detect mosquito antibodies in blood, so mosquito allergy is diagnosed by determining whether the large red areas or swelling and itching occur after you’re bitten by mosquitoes.”

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Skeeter Syndrome vs. Normal Mosquito Bites

Whether you first notice a sharp pinch, a nagging itch, or a painful sting, discovering a brand-new bug bite—sometimes instantly, but often only days later—is no fun. Some ache, some beg to be scratched, and the worst of the bunch do both. And often, you haven’t the slightest clue which critter could have been the culprit. Have a nasty bite you can’t attribute to a specific house bug or outdoor pest? We’re sharing bug bite pictures to help you properly identify the offender, and how to best treat the wound.

Long-acting oral antihistamines like cetirizine (Zyrtec), levocetirizine (Xyzal), or fexofenadine (Allegra) can help ease severe allergic reactions to mosquito bites, says Purvi Parikh, MD, a specialist in infectious disease, allergy, and immunology at NYU Langone Health in New York City.

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Here’s how to tell if skeeter syndrome is happening to you, and what to do about it:

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Unfortunately, experience shows us that almost all bug bites look strikingly similar. In fact, experts say that it’s hard to positively identify the offending insect unless you actually catch it in the act. Everyone’s immune system reacts to bug bites and stings differently, producing unique symptoms in each victim, from swelling to itching to pain.

“Skeeter syndrome is typically diagnosed through taking a careful history and physical examination,” Wada adds. “In reported cases, patients typically were diagnosed after severe episodes.”

19 Pictures of Common Bug Bites and How to Identify Their Symptoms

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Normal mosquito bites can trigger immediate swelling and redness that peaks after about 20 minutes, followed by small itchy bumps that are usually less than 2 centimeters (about ¾ inch) in diameter, says Catherine Newman, MD, a dermatologist in Rochester, Minnesota.

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Putting ice and topical steroids on the affected area can also help, Dr. Parikh says. Sometimes symptoms are so severe that patients need a prescription for prednisone (Deltasone) or other oral steroids.

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