Insect bite remedies not effective

Insect bite remedies not effective

A review in the April issue of the Drug and Therapeutics Bulletin (DTB) shows that there is little evidence that over-the-counter remedies for ordinary insect bites indeed work and that in most incidents, no treatment actually works.

In the UK, insects like mosquitoes, midges, flies, fleas and bedbugs are the most common bugs that bite their victims to feast on their blood, however, the saliva they inject can cause a reaction. Whilst most people have mild reactions to insect bites that can be treated with over-the-counter cures to stop itching, pain and swelling, scratching bites can result in secondary problems, which in turn could lead to infection, eczema flare-up, or, in the most severe cases to anaphylactic shock. The DTB states that the more serious effects from insect bites should definitely be treated appropriately.

To stop itching caused by insect bites, antihistamine tablets are frequently recommended. However, according to the DTB, there is little supporting evidence. Furthermore, none of the products used previous studies have been licensed for use in the UK. 

The same applies to steroid creams and tablets that are recommended to prevent itching and inflammation, says the DTB, except for those who suffer from eczema.

The DTB also points out that steroid creams should be used sparingly and should not be used on the face or on broken skin. Both locations are commonly vigorously scratched. Although steroid tablets are recommended for severe local and systemic reactions, there is also no evidence that supports the recommendation.

The DTB states that creams, which contain painkillers/anesthetics, like lidocaine, benzocaine, or which are combined with antihistamines and antiseptics, are only "marginally effective and occasionally cause sensitization." Furthermore, there is also no concrete evidence about the efficacy of crotamiton, which, according to the British National Formulary (BNF), "is of uncertain value."

Although some evidence exists that dilute ammonium solution, a counter-irritant could function to relieve itching and/or burning, there is also little evidence in terms of the efficacy of antiseptics or astringents. 

 The DTB concludes: "There is little evidence for the efficacy of treatments for simple insect bites. The symptoms are often self limiting and in many cases, no treatment may be needed."

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Section Issues On Medicine: Medical practice