We received a strange question a little while back concerning the implications of swallowing a bug. A bug flew into our reader’s mouth, and at least some of the bug was swallowed. The reader experienced some irritation in the back of her mouth, and she also had a sore throat, so she was wondering if she should be worried. However, the discomfort might be the result of allergies, according to the reader, and not the fact that she swallowed a bug. The reader asked if we could “help at all,” so we presume she wants us to comment on the whether or not it is dangerous to swallow any sort of bug, a matter we will try our best to address.
To clarify the reader’s situation to the extent that this is possible, here is her entire email:
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“Someone hit one out of my hand and it flew in my mouth. It took quite a while to rid my teeth and gums of the hairs, and was very uncomfortable, to say the least. I am positive I swallowed some and could feel them in the back of my throat. Since then I have a sore throat and irritation in that area. Should I be worried? I keep writing it off as allergies. I know, it’s absurd. But if you could help at all? I’ve researched and researched.”
Before attempting to provide any sort of advice, we should note up front that as non-medical professionals we are not qualified to offer any medical advice. If our reader has concerns about her health, we can only recommend visiting a doctor. That said, swallowing a bug isn’t necessarily cause for concern.
Obviously, though, this depends on what sort of bug we are talking about, and unfortunately this isn’t clear from our reader’s email. The bug evidently flew into her mouth, so it is presumably some sort of winged insect, the type of bug that people generally end up swallowing. (These insects tend to belong to the Diptera order, which is made up of creatures like flies, gnats, and mosquitoes.) In general, swallowing this sort of bug shouldn’t be cause for concern. It will quickly die as it moves down your esophagus into your stomach, where it will be digested like any other food. It is worth keeping in mind that entomophagy – the human consumption of insects – is widely practiced across the world, and indeed many types of insects and larvae are actually an excellent source of protein. (This topic came up just a few days ago in an article we wrote on worm oil.)
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We do not want to make a blanket statement like “it is always safe when you swallow a bug,” however, because there are too many unknown factors in any given bug-swallowing episode. For instance, if a bug is poisonous, ingesting it could potentially cause problems, and a bug that is covered in some harmful bacteria might cause problems as well. Bugs aren’t always in the most sanitary places, after all, and it is not without reason that in the places where bugs are eaten, like the Philippines, they are often cooked, which would kill the bacteria on whatever bug is on the menu. Also, humans have a wide range of dietary allergies, so it is at least theoretically possible that a bug could contain something that a person is allergic too.
Overall, though, we don’t think that our reader needs to be too concerned, or in any event she shouldn’t be overly concerned about the bare fact that she consumed part of a bug. If she has persistent discomfort in her mouth and throat, however, this is perhaps cause for concern. Some bugs, and in particular the hairs on some bugs (which our reader came in unfortunate contact with), can cause skin irritation, and conceivably they could cause the same in one’s mouth. So, again, all we can say is that our reader should visit a doctor if she is experiencing health problems. To other readers out there who have swallowed a bug, this probably isn’t cause for concern unless you start exhibiting symptoms that are themselves cause for concern.