Insect bites and stings are common and usually cause only minor irritation. However, some stings can be painful and trigger a serious allergic reaction.
In the UK, insects that bite include midges, mosquitoes, fleas, bedbugs and - although not strictly insects - spiders, mites and ticks, which are arachnids
In the UK, insects that sting include bees, wasps and hornets.
An insect bites you by making a hole in your skin to feed. Most insects sting as a defence by injecting venom into your skin.
Symptoms Of An Insect Bite Or Sting
When an insect bites, it releases saliva that can cause skin around the bite to become red, swollen and itchy. The venom from a sting often also causes a swollen, itchy, red mark (a weal) to form on the skin. This can be painful, but is harmless in most cases. The affected area will usually remain painful and itchy for a few days.
The severity of bites and stings varies depending on the type of insect and sensitivity of the person.
In rare cases, some people can have a serious allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) to a bite or sting that requires immediate medical treatment.
Should I See A Doctor?
See your doctor if you have a lot of swelling and blistering, or if there is pus, which indicates an infection.
Call the emergency line for an ambulance if you experience any of these symptoms following a bite or sting:
* wheezing or difficulty breathing
* nausea, vomiting or diarrhoea
* a fast heart rate
* dizziness or feeling faint
* difficulty swallowing (dysphagia)
* confusion, anxiety or agitation
Treating Insect Bites And Stings
Most bites and stings are treated by:
* washing the affected area with soap and water
* placing a cold compress (a flannel or cloth soaked in cold water) over the area to reduce swelling
* Try not to scratch the affected area to avoid infection and if you are in pain or the area is swollen, take painkillers, such as paracetamol or ibuprofen.
If you have a more serious reaction, your doctor may prescribe other medication or refer you to an allergy clinic for immunotherapy.
Preventing Insect Bites And Stings
You are more likely to be bitten or stung if you work outdoors or regularly take part in outdoor activities, such as camping or hiking.
Wearing insect repellent and keeping your skin covered will help avoid a bite or a sting.
Try not to panic if you encounter wasps, hornets or bees and back away slowly (do not wave your arms around or swat at them).
There is a risk of catching diseases from insect bites, such as malaria, in other parts of the world such as:
* South America
It is important to be aware of any risks before travelling and get any necessary medication or vaccination.