Insect bites and stings

Most insect bites and stings clear up on their own in a few hours or 2 to 3 days. You can usually treat them without seeing a GP.

First aid for insect bites and stings

To deal with any redness, swelling and any stinging or burning pain:

  1. remove the sting if you can see it
  2. clean the wound with soap and water
  3. apply something cold to the skin - for example a damp cloth or ice pack
  4. raise the hand, foot or leg if that’s where bite or sting is

If the bite or sting is on the face, call 111 for first aid advice because the reaction can be more severe.

To reduce the risk of infection apply antiseptic to the bite or sting and try not to scratch it or burst any blisters. There’s little proof that using vinegar or bicarbonate of soda will help.

Tick bites can be more serious than other insect bites and the first aid treatment for them is different.

How to remove stings or caterpillar hairs

Removing stings

Brush or scrape the sting out sideways using something with a hard edge, for example a bank card or your fingernails.

Don’t use tweezers or try to pull it out because this can spread the venom.

If you can’t remove the sting it will usually come out by itself and is often not harmful.

Removing caterpillar hairs

Use tweezers or a pen to lift the caterpillar away and sticky tape to remove any hairs.

Don’t use your hands or brush the caterpillar away as it will release more hairs. It’s the hairs that cause the skin irritation.

Wash your clothes at the highest possible temperature to remove any hairs.

Your pharmacist can help with insect bites and stings

You can:

  • relieve pain with paracetamol or ibuprofen
  • reduce swelling and redness with antihistamines or calamine
  • relieve itching with antihistamines, hydrocortisone or crotamiton cream or tablets

You can buy these from a pharmacist without a prescription.

See your GP if:

  • the symptoms don’t improve after 2 to 3 days
  • you’re worried about the bite or sting
  • signs of infection appear - such as pus, swollen glands or flu-like symptoms
  • signs of an allergic reaction appear - such as swelling or redness that is spreading

Book a GP appointment online

The GP may refer you to an allergy clinic or prescribe antibiotics to treat the infection.

Preventing insect bites and stings

To help prevent insect bites and stings:

  • use an insect repellent - those containing 50% DEET (diethyltoluamide) are most effective
  • cover exposed skin - especially at sunrise and sunset when insects are more active
  • cover food and drink because the colours and smells attract insects
  • don’t disturb insect nests - check if your council can remove the nest for you or search online for pest control services

Call 999 or go to A&E if you have:

  • difficulty breathing
  • difficulty swallowing
  • dizziness or fainting
  • nausea or vomiting
  • an increased heart rate
  • rapid and severe swelling of the face, mouth or throat

These could be signs of a severe allergic reaction such as anaphylactic shock.