Bat bites can be frightening, especially if you don’t know what to expect afterward. If a bat has bitten you, the first question you probably have is: will this bat bite itch and swell?

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer to your question: Yes, bat bites commonly itch and swell due to a reaction to the bat’s saliva that is injected during the bite.

In this comprehensive article, we will dive into the details of what causes bat bites to itch and swell. We’ll cover what you can expect to happen after a bat bite, how long the symptoms last, when you need to seek medical attention, and how to treat the itching and swelling at home for relief.

What Causes Bat Bites to Itch and Swell?

Saliva Contains Allergens

A bat’s saliva often contains proteins and other substances that can trigger allergic reactions in some people (🤧). According to the CDC, around 5-10% of bat bite victims experience itching, redness, and swelling around the bite site within the first 12-24 hours.

This is likely an immune response to the foreign proteins introduced into the body. The reaction can range from mild to more severe depending on the individual’s sensitivity.

In rarer cases, people may even develop a life-threatening allergic reaction known as anaphylaxis. This causes hives, difficulty breathing, facial swelling, and other worrisome symptoms. Anyone showing signs of a severe allergic response after a bat encounter needs immediate medical care.

Possible Infection

Besides allergens, bat bites may also transmit infectious diseases which lead to inflammation and pus at the wound site. Bats harbor Bartonella bacteria and other microbes in their saliva that can invade human skin tissue.

An estimated 5-40% of bat bites result in infection, manifesting as redness, warmth, swelling, and discharge within 3-10 days post-exposure.

Rabies infection is an additional concern following bat bites. Over 99% of rabies cases in humans stem from bat strain rabies viruses. While rare, this deadly viral disease causes neurological symptoms but can be prevented via prompt post-exposure rabies treatment.

Typical Symptoms After a Bat Bite

Pain and Bleeding

Being bitten by a bat can be quite painful. Their sharp little teeth can cause bleeding and intense pain at the bite site. Many people describe a bat bite as feeling like a needle prick. The area around the bite will likely turn red and swollen pretty quickly.

Some mild bleeding or oozing at the wound is common. While getting bitten by a bat is no fun, the real concerns come from potential rabies exposure as we’ll discuss more below.


Along with pain and bleeding, itching at the bat bite location is another common symptom. The reaction from the bat’s saliva and the wound itself can cause significant itching. There may be intense itching localized right around the bite or even extending a few inches from the bite site.

Resist the urge to scratch as this can worsen the wound and increase the risk of infection. For some relief, apply hydrocortisone cream or take an oral antihistamine containing diphenhydramine (Benadryl). If itching persists more than a few days or becomes severe, see your doctor.

Swelling and Redness

It’s very common for a bat bite to become red, swollen, and inflamed. This inflammatory reaction results from your body’s immune response to the bite, as well as the chemicals in the bat’s saliva. The swelling tends to worsen over the first 24 hours after the initial bite.

Often the swelling and redness can extend several inches from the bite wound. Applying ice can help reduce swelling. See your doctor if the swelling seems excessive or continues getting worse beyond the first day or two.

Numbness or Tingling

Some people report numbness, tingling, or burning sensations around the area of a bat bite, even if they did not feel the actual bite happen. This may indicate that a nerve was affected by the bite. Bat bites usually involve puncture wounds from their sharp teeth.

If these puncture a nerve, it can damage the nerve and cause neurological symptoms like numbness and tingling. Such nerve symptoms suggest a deeper bite that could be prone to infection. Seek medical care promptly if you experience any neurological symptoms around the bite site.

How Long Do Symptoms Last?

Itching and Swelling: Up to 1 Week

The initial symptoms of a bat bite such as itching, redness, swelling, and pain typically last for 3 to 7 days. The bitten area can remain swollen and uncomfortable for up to a week before fully healing. Keep the wound clean and avoid scratching as this can worsen swelling and itching.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the majority of bat bites heal on their own within this timeframe without causing longer-term issues (1). However, some people may experience swelling and irritation for longer than a week if the bite gets infected.

Infection Symptoms: Can Worsen Over Time

While many bat bites heal quickly, an infected bite can cause worsening redness, swelling, pain, pus, warmth, red streaks, swollen lymph nodes, fever, chills, and fatigue. These infection symptoms may gradually get more severe over days or even weeks if left untreated.

According to statistics from the American Society for Microbiology, around 10-15% of untreated bat bites become infected by bacteria from the bat’s mouth entering the wound (2). Diabetics and those with weakened immune systems are at higher risk of developing an infection.

Early Signs of Infection Later Signs of Severe Infection
– Increased redness, swelling, pain at bite site – High fever, chills
– Warmth, pus, red streaks around bite – Extreme pain and swelling
– Swollen lymph nodes – Fatigue

These worsening infection symptoms indicate it’s crucial to see a doctor quickly for wound care and antibiotics. An untreated infected bite can progress to a bone, bloodstream, or tissue infection. Though rare, severe infections may require hospitalization for intravenous antibiotics or surgery.

In addition to infection risk, a bite from a rabies-infected bat poses the danger of this deadly virus. Seek immediate medical care after any bat bite to assess rabies risk and receive life-saving preventative treatment if needed.

By keeping bat bite wounds clean and watching closely for signs of infection or rabies, you can minimize risks and ensure prompt treatment. Report concerning worsening symptoms to a doctor right away. Though most bites improve within days, some may progress to serious infections over time.

Quick medical care is key!

When to Seek Medical Care for a Bat Bite

Signs of Infection

If a bat bite starts showing signs of infection, such as increased redness, warmth, swelling, drainage of pus, or worsening pain around the bite, medical care should be sought immediately (CDC). Other symptoms indicating infection include fever, chills, and a general feeling of illness.

Infected bites can develop into serious conditions like sepsis or necrosis without prompt care, so it is crucial to seek medical evaluation at the first signs of infection.

Healthcare providers may clean the wound more thoroughly, obtain a culture or biopsy to identify the bacteria causing infection, and prescribe a course of antibiotics to clear the infection. For more severe infections, intravenous antibiotics or even surgery may be necessary.

Getting early care minimizes the risks of complications and permanent injury from the infection.

Rabies Risk

Anyone bitten or scratched by a bat should immediately wash the bite with soap and water for at least 5 minutes and then promptly seek medical evaluation for rabies risk (CDC). Bats are the primary source of human rabies infections in the U.S. Rabies is almost always fatal once symptoms start, so post-exposure treatment is critical for preventing the disease.

A healthcare provider will clean the bite wound again, administer rabies immune globulin around the bite, and start a series of 4 rabies vaccinations over 2 weeks. Prompt rabies post-exposure treatment is nearly 100% effective in preventing the disease if administered before symptoms emerge.

Overall, less than 5 humans per year die of rabies in the U.S. when appropriate medical care is sought for bat bites.

Treating Itching and Swelling from Bat Bites at Home


Taking an over-the-counter antihistamine like Benadryl can help relieve itching and swelling after a bat bite (CDC). Antihistamines block the action of histamine, a chemical released by the immune system during an allergic reaction.

Common side effects of antihistamines include drowsiness, dizziness, and headache. Check with your pharmacist or doctor about which one is right for you.

Cold Compresses

Applying something cold, like an ice pack or cold compress, can provide relief from both itching and swelling (AMA). Cold therapy causes vasoconstriction, reducing blood flow to the area and tamping down inflammation.

Use a washcloth dampened with cold water or wrap some ice cubes in a towel and apply to the bite area for 10-20 minutes several times a day. Just be careful not to apply anything frozen directly on the skin, which could cause tissue damage.

OTC Anti-itch Creams

There are many over-the-counter creams available to help stop the urge to scratch, like hydrocortisone cream, calamine lotion, and oatmeal baths. These can reduce inflammation and irritation on the skin’s surface.

For optimal relief, first clean the area with mild soap and water, apply a thin layer of the anti-itch cream, and reapply as needed (American Academy of Dermatology). However, don’t use topical creams if the skin is broken or infected without consulting a doctor first.

In severe cases of itching or swelling after a bat bite, or if any signs of infection appear, it’s important to see a healthcare provider right away. But for mild symptoms, trying remedies like antihistamines, cold therapy, and anti-itch creams at home may help provide some relief.


In summary, bat bites commonly cause itching and swelling due to a reaction to compounds in the bat’s saliva. The itching and swelling typically lasts up to a week, but can persist longer. Seek medical care if signs of infection develop or if the bat may have exposed you to rabies.

To help relieve mild itching and swelling at home, you can use antihistamines, cold compresses, topical creams, and OTC pain medication. With proper first aid and monitoring for complications, most bat bites can be managed safely at home.

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