Insect bites and stings are most common during the warmer summer months - they usually only cause minor irritation and clear up in a day. In the UK you might be bitten by midges, mosquitoes, fleas, bedbugs, spiders, mites or ticks or stung by bees, wasps and hornets.
Some stings can be painful or trigger an allergic reaction you didn’t know you would have, but most often there is nothing to worry about and you can treat them at home. Itching and swelling caused by insect bites or stings mostly clears up within a day. If redness and swelling persists beyond 24 hours and is getting worse, the bite may be infected and you should arrange to see your GP practice.
Some of the common symptoms of a bite or sting include a single small itchy lump and in some cases groups of small itchy lumps or wheals (red, swollen and itchy areas). There will usually be some redness and swelling and in some cases there can be blistering and bruising.
You might also experience the following, if bitten by certain types of insect:
- a rash or hives
- itchy pale pink or red swollen area around the eyes or lips
You can treat bites and stings and the symptoms caused by them by:
- washing the affected area with soap and water
- placing a cold compress (a flannel or cloth soaked in cold water) or an icepack (or frozen peas) wrapped in a towel over the affected area to reduce swelling
- resisting scratching the area as this can cause it to become infected (if your child has been bitten or stung, keeping their fingernails short and clean can help this)
- taking paracetamol or ibuprofen to relieve any pain
- using a spray or cream containing a local anaesthetic, antihistamine or mild hydrocortisone on the area to prevent itching and swelling
- taking an antihistamine tablet to help reduce swelling.
If you are unlucky enough to have a bite or sting which is causing skin irritation visit your local pharmacist in the first instance for advice and over the counter treatment. If symptoms don’t improve after a few days contact NHS 111 or your GP practice. However if you have shortness of breath, rapid pulse, dizziness or are feeling generally unwell after an insect bite then call 999.