Find information on medical topics, symptoms, drugs, procedures, news and more, written in everyday language.

* This is the Consumer Version. *

Introduction to Bites and Stings

by Robert A. Barish, MD, MBA, Thomas Arnold, MD

Many creatures, including humans, bite when frightened or provoked. Bites may cause injuries ranging from superficial scratches to extensive wounds and often become infected with bacteria from the mouth of the biting creature.

Certain animals can inject venom (poison) through mouthparts or a stinger. These venoms range in toxicity from mild to life threatening. Even mildly toxic venoms may cause serious allergic reactions.

Doctors diagnose most bites and stings by talking with and examining the person. If a wound is deep, x-rays or other imaging studies are sometimes done to look for teeth or other hidden foreign material. The most effective way to prevent infection and scarring is usually thorough cleaning and proper wound care, done as soon as possible.