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Insect Bites and Stings

Bites and Stings in the Garden

In this article we’ll look at the symptoms, treatments and prevention for insect bites and stings.

Insect Bites and Stings

This article has been medically approved by Superintendent Pharmacist Shilpa Shailen Karia, MRPharmS. - GPhC Reg No: 2087328

There’s nothing worse than enjoying a day in the sun only to be kept up all night with itchy, red bites. Read our article below for the symptoms, treatments and prevention of insect bites and stings.


Insect bites and stings usually cause a red, swollen lump to develop on the skin. They may be painful or itchy.

Most insect bites and stings are not serious. They will normally get better within a few hours or days.

Some people may have an allergic reaction to getting bitten or stung. A larger area of skin around the wound will become swollen, red and painful. Rarely, someone might experience a severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis). This may cause breathing difficulties, dizziness, and a swollen face or mouth. Anaphylaxis requires immediate medical treatment and you should call 999.


Bugs that bite or sting include wasps, hornets, bees, horseflies, ticks, mosquitoes, fleas, bedbugs, spiders, gnats, and midges.


To treat an insect bite or sting:

  • Remove the sting or tick if it's still in the skin
  • Wash the affected area with soap and water
  • Apply a cold compress or an ice pack to any swelling for at least 10 minutes
  • Raise or elevate the affected area if possible, as this can help reduce swelling
  • Avoid scratching the area, to reduce the risk of infection
  • Avoid traditional home remedies, such as vinegar and bicarbonate of soda, as they're unlikely to help

Pain, swelling and itchiness can sometimes last a few days. Painkillers such as paracetamol or ibuprofen can reduce the pain. There are many suitable treatments for itching, such as crotamiton cream or lotion, hydrocortisone cream or ointment and antihistamine tablets. Antihistamine tablets may also help with swelling, but you might also want to try regularly applying a cold compress or ice pack.

See your GP if these treatments don't help. They may prescribe stronger medicines such as steroid tablets. You should also see your GP if you’re worried about a bite or sting, if it has symptoms of an infection, or if a large area (10 cm or more) becomes swollen and red.

If you or someone else has symptoms such as:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • A swollen face, mouth, or throat
  • Feeling or being sick
  • A fast heart rate
  • Feeling dizzy or faint
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Loss of consciousness

You should immediately phone 999 for an ambulance.

Preventing bites and stings

There are ways to protect yourself from getting bitten or stung by insects when out and about:

  • Remain calm and slowly move away from wasps, bees or hornets. Do not swat at them
  • Cover exposed skin with long sleeves and trousers
  • Wear shoes when outdoors
  • Apply insect repellent to exposed skin
  • Avoid using strong perfumes as these can attract insects