There’s nothing better than being outside when the weather is warm, the sun is shining and there’s a gentle breeze. Sunscreen, a Frisbee, your children, some great snacks— your family is all set for an afternoon of fun. Well, not quite. Everything’s fine aside from those annoying bugs, like ants crawling atop your food or the bee buzzing around your son’s head while he plays catch. And, what about the mosquitoes that often bite and sting?

Mere worries about bugs can put a damper on your family’s fun in the sun. According to a recent consumer survey, 93 percent of people expressed concern over finding insects in their home. In fact, insects and bugs rank as the public’s third most common fear, behind public speaking and heights, as cited by an Army Community Service survey.

All this worry about pests makes sense. More than two million Americans have allergic reactions to stinging insects, more than 500,000 enter hospital emergency rooms every year suffering from insect stings, and between 40 to 150 people die annually from stings, according to the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology.

But, there’s no need to let worries about bugs ruin a perfectly good day. By following a few simple rules of prevention, insects can be no more unpleasant than housework— annoying, but basically harmless. Simply figure out what critters lurk, remember these tips and you’re set for a near bug-free end to summer!

Know Your Enemy

Here’s the lowdown on some common unwelcome guests.

Mosquitoes hang out where there’s food, pools of water and people. Though such bugs are mostly annoying because their bites itch, people harbor concerns about mosquitoes because of the West Nile virus, which is transmitted to humans by mosquitoes. This risk, however, is minimal. Less than one percent of the people who are infected with West Nile virus become seriously ill.

Fleas are also in the annoying-but-not-too-harmful category. They often find their home on your dog or cat, and then latch on your family members. Ticks generally lurk in heavily wooded areas. As they can carry Lyme disease, if you or your children spend ample time in the woods outdoors you need to check bodies daily and quickly remove any tick with a pair of tweezers. Never burn or yank off a tick by its legs. This can cause a tick to burrow deeper in one’s skin.

Bees, yellow jackets and wasps carry a sting that only causes problems for people who are allergic to the particular bugs. For most people, the affected area may get a little red or swollen and may be somewhat painful for a short while.

For most varieties of insect bites and stings, antihistamines will help to stop itching and lessen swelling. Over-the-counter pain relievers can also help to reduce swelling while relieving some pain. A topical steroid cream like hydrocortisone can be used to alleviate most itching.

Clean Sweep the House

Many insect woes can actually be prevented by finding nests and then quickly eliminating them. For instance, carpenter bees drill round holes into wood trim and gables of homes, porch ceilings, decks, shingles, siding, outdoor wooden furniture— just about anything made of wood. Over time, the bees tunnel their way through the same hole, causing extensive damage and leaving behind their waste materials, which stain.

Female carpenter bees can dig an inch in six days. One bee usually makes six egg chambers on the sunny side of a target. Multiple bees attacking the sunny side of a deck or house can infest up to ten feet of board. Similarly, the extent of damage to wood caused by bees for nesting can be considerable over the years. Look for sawdust and pollen under entrance holes to see if critters lurk. Then call for professional help to effectively get rid of the bees.

The winter snow and spring rains also create an ideal environment for mosquitoes, ticks, termites and carpenter ants to thrive. Follow the tips listed below so the entire family can enjoy the backyard through the end of summer without worrying about annoying critters.

  • Seal up any cracks and holes on the outside of your home, including areas where utilities and pipes enter your home.
  • When you’re in the woods, tuck in your clothes, and wear socks and shoes when walking on grass and gardening. DEET helps to treat socks.
  • Trim back long tree branches. Otherwise, squirrels can use these branches to get onto your roof.
  • Be aware of standing water. Small pools of water around the outside of your home can be breeding grounds for mosquitoes.
  • Regularly inspect the exterior of your home for possible pest entrance ways. Look for things like mud tubes created by termites and long branches that extend over roofs and gutters.
  • Don’t feed birds.
  • Wear gloves when gardening.
  • Spray down flowering plants with a garden hose before you barbecue.
  • Place an oscillating fan in sitting areas.
  • Use low voltage lighting.
  • Avoid mulch piled around trees for landscaping purposes. Such mulch piles breed fungus and attract pest harborage.
  • Don’t disturb bee or wasp nests. Contact professionals who are trained to deal with these nests.
  • Don’t swat at buzzing insects; they will sting if they feel threatened.
  • Be aware that spiders might be hiding in undisturbed wood piles, boxes or corners, especially behind furniture.

Bring in the Experts

If you’ve already been invaded, call a qualified pest management professional to treat areas, remove nests and seal entrance holes.

Treating Stings

Insect stings are painful. Most people experience temporary redness, swelling and itching when stung. If stung:

  • Elevate the affected arm or leg and apply ice or a cold compress to reduce swelling and pain.
  • Don’t break blisters. Instead, gently clean blisters with soap and water to prevent a secondary infection.
  • Use topical steroid ointments or oral antihistamines to relieve itching.
  • See a doctor if swelling progresses or if the sting site seems infected.
  • For severe reactions, go to an emergency room immediately.