A Know-How to Treat Insect Bites

Insect bites and stings are a common complaint and can hardly be called life-threatening. However, some insect bites can be severely painful and cause severe allergic reactions.

When insect bites are infected, it can cause a severe allergic reaction or trigger serious illness. Itch may be healed by a soothing ointment, antihistamine tablets, or steroid cream. Some insects infest pets, furniture, etc. and can cause repeated bites.

Insects, stings, and bites:

Stinging Insects:

Some common stinging insects in the UK include wasps, bees and hornets. Usually, the wound is caused by the thrust of an insect’s stinger into the skin.

Biting Insects:

Biting insects that are common in the UK include gnats, mosquitoes, fleas, mites, ticks, midges, bedbugs, ticks, etc.

Symptoms of an Insect Bite or Sting:

An Insect Sting:

When an insect bites, injecting saliva into the skin, the affected area turns red, swollen and itchy. The venom causes an intense, burning pain which is followed by a patch of redness that can be noticed around the sting. Usually, the redness disappears after a few days.

An Insect Bite:

Unlike stings, bites may not be noticeable (although some can be quite painful, mainly from a horsefly). However, saliva from the insect can trigger a skin reaction such as:

  • Irritation
  • A small itchy lump
  • A wheal

Small papules (lumps) are caused by bites from midgets, mosquitoes, and gnats. Those who are particularly sensitive to insect bites may develop:

  • bullae (fluid-filled blisters)
  • wheals (circular, fluid-filled areas surrounding the bite)

Malaria is a tropical disease caused by an infection of the red blood cells.

Flea bites, on the other hand, can lead to a condition called popular urticaria. Bullae may also develop. Fleas from cats and dogs usually affect the ankles and forearms especially when you stroke or hold your pet.

Horseflies cut the skin when they bite. The bite can be extremely painful as well as can lead to the formation of a weal around the affected area. The typical symptoms of a horsefly include:

  • Dizziness
  • Weakness
  • Wheezing
  • Urticaria
  • Angio Oedema

Usually, bedbug bites do not cause any pain. You may hardly have any signs if you have not been bitten before. However, those who have experienced a bite may develop intensely irritating weals and lumps. Bedbug bites usually affect your:

  • Face
  • Neck
  • Hands
  • Arms

When to See a Doctor:

If the bites and stings cause swelling and blistering, it is imperative to see a doctor. Too much of these signs may indicate an infection.

Following symptoms also require immediate medical attention:

  • Wheezing or breathing difficulty
  • Nausea, vomiting or diarrhoea
  • A fast heart rate
  • Dizziness
  • Swollen face or mouth
  • Confusion, anxiety or agitation

Treating Insect Bites and Stings:

Basic Treatment:

Most bites and stings can be cured by:

  • Washing the affected area with soap and water
  • Applying a cold compress over the area to reduce swelling

Try not to scratch the affected area, or it might lead to an infection. In case of a more severe reaction, see a doctor and take medicine as prescribed. In some instances, you might be referred to an allergy clinic for immunotherapy.

Additional Treatment:

To cure redness and reduce the swelling, you can also:

  • Apply a cold compressor on the affected area
  • Take painkillers, such as Paracetamol or Ibuprofen as prescribed
  • Use a spray or cream that contains a local anaesthetic, antihistamine, or mild hydrocortisone on the affected area to stop itching and redness
  • Take an antihistamine tablet as prescribed to help reduce the swelling

In case of severe swelling, a short course of oral corticosteroids, such as prednisolone might be recommended.


In case you have developed blisters, do not rupture them because they may cause an infection. An adhesive bandage can be used to protect the blistered area.


Bites and stings most commonly occur when one is outside. The following measures that you can adapt to minimise the risk of being bitten and stung by an insect are the following:

  • Wear shoes when outside
  • Put on light-coloured clothing
  • Avoid strong fragrances, perfumes, and highly scented shampoos
  • Avoid camping near a water body, such as ponds and swamps, for these areas are the breeding grounds of mosquitoes and flies.
  • Do not disturb beehives and other inspect nests. If the nest is in or near your house, be sure to have it removed from there.
  • Keep food and drink covered especially sweet things. Wasps and bees can get into the open drinking bottle.
  • Keep your doors and windows closed to prevent insects from getting inside.


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