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Insect Bites and Stings

Date issued: December 2022

Review date: December 2024

Ref: A-535/NB/ED/Insect Bites and Stings

PDF:  Bites Insect final December 2022.pdf [pdf] 114KB

What may happen after an insect bite or sting?

  • Skin reaction: For example, a small itchy lump sometimes with redness around area

  • Skin infection: Occasionally a skin infection develops particularly if you scratch a lot. Infection causes redness and tenderness around the bite

  • Local Reaction: Sometimes there is a more severe local reaction with a burning pain followed by redness and swelling

  • Allergic Reaction: In a few cases there is a localised allergic reaction (swelling becomes larger sometimes extending up an entire arm or leg)

  • Diseases: In hot countries mosquito bites can transmit malaria and other diseases. In the UK, occasionally Lyme disease can be transmitted through ticks.

What is anaphylaxis?

  • Rarely, patients may develop a generalised allergic reaction following a bee or wasp sting. This is called anaphylaxis and the symptoms may include swelling of the face sometimes involving lips, tongue, and throat, feeling sick, fast heart, feeling faint, wheezing or difficulty breathing. This is a serious problem and needs urgent treatment.

What is the treatment for insect bites and stings?

  • If anaphylactic symptoms develop call 999

  • If you can see a sting, remove it (use the edge of credit card or fingernail)

  • You may not need any treatment as the itch will fade

  • If there is redness and swelling use a cold compress and take painkillers

  • Creams may be useful. Ask the pharmacist/nurse/doctor for advice

  • Antihistamine tablets may be useful if there is a lot of swelling or itching.

Can I take antihistamine tablets?

  • Yes. There are many different types of antihistamine tablets; your pharmacy will advise you. Some antihistamines (e.g., chlorphenamine or Piriton) may make you sleepy. This is very useful if the itching is preventing you from sleeping but you will need to be careful about driving or working machinery. Some of the newer antihistamines do not have this effect (e.g., cetirizine or Piriteze).

Tick bites

  • Remove the tick as soon as possible using fine tweezers or fingernails in a twisting direction. Try not to squeeze the body.

  • Clean the area.

  • See a doctor if you develop a rash or an unexplained high temperature.

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