All of the insect bite and sting symptoms you should be aware of
Insects are often an uninvited guest to outdoor dining, countryside walks and sunbathing. Sometimes – whether it’s because you’ve aggravated them, your skin is exposed or you’re just unlucky – an insect can land you with a nasty bite or sting.
Insect bites and stings can appear red and swollen, and they may be itchy and sore, too. Most insect bites will improve within a few hours or days and can be treated at home. However, in rare cases, certain people may develop an allergic reaction, which can be life threatening if it’s not treated quickly.
So, sink your teeth into this guide to learn how you can prevent bites and stings, identify common critter culprits and the symptoms that follow.
Which insects can bite or sting you?
Many different insects can bite or sting you – yes, even an adorable ladybird can lash out! Some of the most common bugs that bite or sting include wasps, hornets, bees, horseflies, ants, flower bugs, ticks, mosquitoes, fleas, bedbugs, spiders and midges.
Other critters are capable of biting or stinging you, but it’s unlikely. A type of ladybird known as the harlequin ladybird that’s found throughout much of the UK can be aggressive. These ladybirds can be red or orange with multiple spots. If you’re unsure, keep an eye out for a distinctive white spot on its head - regular ladybirds won’t have this.
Although caterpillars won’t bite you, their tiny hairs can harm you, especially caterpillars from the oak processionary moth (OPM). They’re considered a real pest to wildlife, so always contact your local council if you spot one - just don’t touch them!
What are the symptoms?
The symptoms of a bite or sting will depend on, well, what exactly has bitten or stung you!
Below we’ll describe some of the potential symptoms to help you identify which insect offender gets the guilty verdict.
If you think you have an infected insect bite, see a doctor. Symptoms of an infection include pus, increasing pain, swelling and redness. It’s important that you seek medical attention if you have flu-like symptoms, swollen glands and a high temperature as this is a sign of a more widespread infection.
If someone is showing symptoms of a severe allergic reaction, such as: breathing difficulties, a swollen face, mouth or throat, feeling or being sick, fast heart rate, dizziness, difficulty swallowing and a loss of consciousness, you must seek emergency medical attention.
Bee, wasp and hornet bites
If you’ve been stung by a bee, wasp or hornet you may feel a sudden sharp pain followed by a red mark forming on your skin. This mark can last for a few hours and it might be painful and itchy. If you’ve been stung by a bee, the stinger will often be left in the wound which needs to be safely removed.
Some people find that their wound can be red, swollen and painful for up to a week. Don’t worry! This is a minor allergic reaction that most likely won’t cause you any harm, but if you do notice any signs of a severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) you must seek emergency medical attention.
Mosquito and midge bites
A mosquito or a midge bite can cause small red lumps to form on your skin. These are very itchy and for some people, they can develop into fluid-filled blisters. Midge bites can also cause severe swelling.
Mosquito bites aren’t a cause for concern here in the UK, but in some parts of the world they can cause serious health problems such as malaria. If you develop a high-temperature, chills, headache and nausea after a mosquito bite abroad you need to seek medical advice.
Tick bites can be tricky to pinpoint as they’re not usually painful, especially if you’ve been bitten in a hard-to-spot area like your back. A tick bite can cause redness and swelling, itchiness, blistering and bruising.
Just because they’re painless, don’t cross ticks off your list! Sometimes ticks can carry lyme disease, a bacterial infection that’s spread to humans through infected tick bites. Ticks infected with lyme disease can be found across the UK, but there are some areas where you’re at an increased risk of contracting the disease. These places include grassy and woodland areas in southern and northern England, in addition to the Scottish Highlands.
The main sign of lyme disease is a rash in the area where the infection entered your body. A circular rash surrounding the tick bite can be an early symptom of lyme disease (it can look similar to a bullseye), but most people only develop a rash 1-4 weeks after being bitten, and for others, it can take up to 3 months!
A horsefly bite can be extremely painful and the skin will be red and raised. You may also experience symptoms like: dizziness, weakness, wheezing, a larger, red, raised rash (hives), or where part of your body becomes puffy and swollen.
If you’ve been bitten by a horsefly, the wound may take a long time to heal, increasing the infection risk.
You’ll typically develop bedbug bites on the face, neck, hands or arms, in straight lines across the skin. If you’ve not been bitten by bed bugs before, you usually won’t develop any symptoms. However, if you have been bitten before you may experience itchy red bumps that persist for several days.
Mites will often target exposed skin, causing bites that develop into extremely itchy red lumps that may blister. Sometimes, mites can burrow into the skin and cause a condition known as scabies.
You may think that fleas are limited to cats and dogs, but fleas can bite humans, too. On human skin, fleas appear in clusters of small, itchy red lumps that sometimes blister. Fleas from cats or dogs are likely to bite below the knee, typically the ankles, but you can also get them on your forearms if you’ve been stroking or holding an infected animal.
How to prevent bites and stings
Despite the fact that most insect bites and stings aren’t harmful, they still aren’t pleasant to deal with and can look unsightly on the skin. Keep reading to discover some measures you can adopt to prevent you and your loved ones from landing a nasty bite.
- If you come across wasps, bees or hornets, don’t wave your arms and swat at them. You should remain calm and move away slowly.
- Cover any exposed skin by wearing long sleeves and trousers, especially if you’re walking through the countryside.
- Apply an insect repellant that contains at least 50% DEET (diethyltoluamide).
- Don’t use perfumed products as it can attract insects.
- Be cautious when around flowering plants, rubbish, compost, stagnant water or where food is being served.
- Never disturb an insect nest - if you discover a nest, always get it professionally removed.
- Avoid camping near water as it’s particularly popular with mosquitos and horseflies.
- If you’re eating outside, keep food and drink covered, especially sweet things.
- Keep doors and windows closed or put a thin netting or door beads to prevent insects from getting inside your house. The same applies for car windows, too.
Insect bites and stings can be painful, irritating and unsightly, and occasionally, they can lead to infection and other serious conditions like lyme disease and malaria. Thankfully, there are ways to reduce your risk of getting a stinger, like applying insect repellant and covering any exposed areas of skin.
So don’t be a fly on the wall - get to know your insect bites and stings! If you need further information about insect bites and stings, visit the NHS website.