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HOW TO TREAT INSECT BITES AND STINGS

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Insect bites and stings are frequent and usually only cause 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 limited to insects, spiders, mites and ticks, which are arachnids. Insects that sting include bees, wasps and hornets.

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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.

What are symptoms of an insect bite or sting

When an insect bites, it releases saliva that can make the skin around the bite to get red, swollen and itchy.

The venom from a sting can also causes a swollen, itchy, red mark (a weal) to form on the skin. This can get painful, but it’s harmless in most cases. The affected area will usually remain painful and itchy for a few days.

The severity of bites and stings varies too depending on the type of insect involved and the sensitivity of the person.

In rare situations, some people can have a serious allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) to a bite or sting that needs immediate medical treatment.

When to seek medical help

See your caregiver if you’ve been bitten or stung and there’s a lot of swelling and blistering or if there’s pus, which shows an infection.

Ask for an ambulance if you experience any of these symptoms after 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.

How to treat 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 lower swelling

Try not to scratch the affected area to prevent infection. If you’re in pain or the area is swollen, take painkillers such as paracetamol or ibuprofen.

If you have a more serious reaction, your caregiver may prescribe other medication or refer you to an allergy clinic for immunotherapy (desensitisation).

Avoiding insect bites and stings

You’re more likely to get bitten or stung if you work outdoors or regularly take part in outdoor activities, such as camping or hiking.

Using insect repellent and keeping your skin covered when outdoors will assist you avoid being bitten or stung.

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Try not to panic if you encounter wasps, hornets or bees, and back away slowly. Don’t wave your arms around or swat at them.

Travelling abroad

There’s a great risk of catching diseases such as malaria from insect bites in certain parts of the world, such as:

  • Africa
  • Asia
  • South America

It’s therefore vital to be aware of any risks before travelling to these areas, and to get any necessary medication or vaccinations.

 

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