- How to know if you have been bitten or stung
- Are insect bites dangerous?
- Which insects could bite or sting?
- How to prevent bites & stings
- How to treat insect bites and stings
No one likes dealing with the aftermath of bites and stings. They're painful, itchy, ugly and the swelling seems to stick around forever.
We've done some research into the field and have found you the best methods for not only preventing insect bites but also treating them should you be unlucky!
Insects are clever things - to get ahead of the game it's a good idea to have a bit of background info on bites and stings:
How to know if you have been bitten or stung
Just in case you've never been bitten or stung - lucky you - we'll go back to basics.
The bitten or stung area will usually be raised and red. It will look swollen and, as it develops, it could become seriously itchy and painful.
If you've been stung by a bee there could be a stinger - a bit like a splinter - inside the wound, which you should carefully remove with tweezers.
Are insect bites dangerous?
You'll be pleased to know that most insect bites and stings are harmless and you'll normally recover within a matter of hours or days.
In very rare instances, insect bites or stings can cause anaphylaxis or serious illness. Take care if travelling to countries where the spread of disease by mosquitoes is prevalent.
The NHS has advice on severe insect bites and stings if you have concerns. If your bite becomes infected or you have a severe allergic reaction, seek medical advice immediately.
Which insects could bite or sting?
The main insects that sting and bite are: wasps, hornets, bees, horseflies, ticks, mosquitoes, fleas, bedbugs, spiders and midges. You might also want to consider certain types of ants, caterpillars and flower bugs. Your bites could also be from bed bugs.
How to prevent bites & stings
1. Know your repellents
It seems obvious, but there's a lot to know about insect repellent. Here's what you should be paying attention to when picking and using repellents:
- Most repellants will contain a chemical called DEET (diethyltoluamide). Some people would say these are the best, especially when they contain 50% DEET. That said, DEET is very powerful and, whilst effective, it's not natural and can cause irritation for sensitive skin. If you are allergic to DEET, you could try repellants with Dimethyl Phthalate or Eucalyptus oil.
- Creams are great for your skin but spray repellents are better applied to clothes, shoes, tents, etc.
- DIY your own insect repellent by mixing neem oil and citronella into your everyday body lotion. Avoid heavily perfumed lotions as these attract insects. Neem oil does smell pretty bad, but the citronella will keep the smell at bay.
- Apply it regularly and take it everywhere - just like sun cream!
2. Don't mix!
It's advised that you apply sun creams before repellant, and allow it to dry fully first.
If you mix repellent with cream before applying to the skin, it could make both less effective.
3. Advice for children
Protecting children is an entirely different matter. Bear in mind the following to keep your little ones bite-free:
- Clothing should always be the primary line of defense against insect bites and stings. Cover their skin as much as possible and avoid letting them walk outside barefoot.
- If applying repellents to children, always apply it with your own hands. Don't ask them to apply it themselves as it can be dangerous.
- Never apply repellents to babies below 2 months old and don't use products containing strong chemicals on children younger than 3 years old. There is some scientific evidence that DEET can impact brain development.
- Don't apply repellent to their hands - we all know how much kids like to put their hands in their mouths!
4. Fan them away
Fans are the perfect weapon not just for keeping you cool in the summer months but also to deter insects from flying your way.
Position the fan close to you and insects will have a hard time flying through the powerful gusts of air.
5. Make your home an insect-free zone
Thin, gauzy tents or canopies are perfect for keeping mosquitos and other insects away. Use them over the bed or in outdoor areas. IKEA sells a SOLIG net which would make the perfect outdoor setup.
We'd also recommend keeping your windows and doors closed as much as you can. This can be a pain in houses that don't have air conditioning, so you can also attach thin netting or a beaded curtain inside windows to limit the number of insects that can get in when they're open.
6. Drain your water
Do your best to drain any standing water in your garden or outdoor areas - standing water is any body of water that is not constantly moving. It is commonly found in pet bowls, bird baths, watering cans, and wheelbarrows.
Draining the water will prevent mosquitoes from breeding in your garden.
7. Avoid these areas
As well as loving standing water, insects will be most attracted to flowering plants, rubbish, compost, and uncovered food. Try not to stay too close to any of these areas if at all possible.
It's also highly advised to stay away from overgrown areas with tall grass and shrubs. These are a breeding ground for insects.
CO2 is another favourite of insects. If you perform any high-intensity outdoor activities then insects are likely to be more attracted to you as you produce more and more CO2.
Do less exercise? Relax and enjoy the sun? We can't argue with this one!
In the same vein, if you find yourself in the flight path of a bee, wasp or hornet, the best thing to do is relax - stay calm. If you are able to, it's best to move out of the way and avoid swatting them.
If you have a nest or a hive in or near your home, do all that you can to get rid of it. Preferably, call an exterminator. We wouldn't recommend trying to do it yourself.
Remember that bees are a protected species. If you have an unwanted bee nest, we suggest contacting the British Bee Keepers Association who will normally come and collect the swarm for free.
10. Why not try citronella?
Citronella oil is perfect for deterring insects and can be found in special candles that you should use for outdoor parties and lunches to keep bugs at bay. Simply place a few of the candles around the perimeter of the area you are using.
Apparently, it's best to place them lower to the ground - not at table height. Just be careful that they don't cause a fire hazard or pose a danger to young children or pets.
We can't promise it'll work but it's certainly worth a try, on top of using other repellents. Who doesn't love some mood lighting?
11. Dress for success
The best way to avoid being bitten or stung is to keep as covered up as possible. It's not the most ideal thing in hot summer weather, but that's a choice you'll have to make.
We recommend wearing lighter colours and long sleeves and floral prints should be avoided - unless you want to become a bees new best friend that is!
Wear a hat or a bandana to protect your head and be sure to wear gardening gloves if you've got green fingers. Where possible, tuck your top into your bottoms and your bottoms into your socks.
You might not win best dressed, but don't worry - we won't call the fashion police.
12. Home remedies
Some people have suggested that home remedies like eating garlic or taking a vitamin B supplement will help to banish the bugs. Again, we can't guarantee that this will work, but it could be worth a go.
13. Stay inside
Sometimes all that you can do is stay inside and wait for it all to blow over.
That said, try not to let the fear of insect bites and stings stop you from enjoying the great outdoors!
14. Don't encourage them!
Just like us, bugs love food.
If you leave food around or have sticky hands, they'll want to stick around for dinner.
Cover food up as soon as possible, and wash your hands regularly to avoid inciting them.
How to treat insect bites and stings
No matter how much we try to prevent being stung or bitten, there's always a few that manage to slip through! When the bugs bite, it's important to know what to do.
1. Remove the stinger
Check the affected area for any foreign bodies - you might find a stinger or a tic. Carefully remove any foreign bodies with a pair of sterilised tweezers. Seek further medical advice if necessary.
2. Clean the infected area
Always clean the area to prevent infection. Wash with a mild soap and water.
Reduce swelling with a cold compress such as ice or a bag of frozen peas. Wrap the ice or bag in a tea towel and place on the wound. This should also help with any pain.
If possible, raise the wounded part of your body. Keep it elevated as much as you can to reduce swelling.
5. Don't scratch!
No matter how itchy the bite or sting might be, don't itch it! We know from experience that this is easier said than done, but itching makes the pain worse and makes chances of infection more likely.
6. Get to the pharmacy
If you've been bitten or stung the best thing for it is to use an over-the-counter remedy like a cream or antihistamine.
Medicines that contain a mild local anaesthetic will work wonders for relieving pain. You could give teething gel a go, as it will numb the area.
Another option is tea tree, witch hazel or aloe vera for soothing bites and stings.
7. Pop a painkiller
If you are still in pain, you could try to take painkillers as well as antihistamine tablets. Either paracetamol or ibuprofen is great - just verify with your GP that you're ok to take them.
8. In an emergency
If you suspect that you're allergic to bites or stings, particularly that you may have an anaphylactic reaction, you should always carry a kit of essential medications.
Make sure that your family and friends know what to do in an emergency and that they can confidently administer drugs should they need to.
Next, why not read our article: can fleas live in human hair? You might be surprised by the answer!
Did you find this post helpful or do you have any advice of your own to share? Let us know in the comments below!
I have found that placing a blister plaster over any painful or extremely itchy large area helps by putting out anything which has got into the bit and by keeping the air out, it stops it itching.
That's a brilliant idea, Kate!
Your statement: If you have an unwanted bee nest, we suggest contacting the British Bee Keepers Association who will normally come and collect the swarm for free. Is misleading-they state on their site they can only remove honey bees, however they do have a search facility to fond a local service to remove the bees
We would recommend that our readers take a look at the British Bee Keepers Association website for any swarm or nest concerns. They'll be able to get all the information they need there from the professionals. Thanks for reaching out, Leila!
I find vinegar helps sprinkle it over the affected area it stops the itch
That's interesting, thanks for sharing Rodger!
Cant say I'm too happy about saying to drain all water from bird baths etc, especially as its been so dry this summer! If the water is kept fresh, no mosquito lavae will live in it!! Let the poor birds drink!
Hi Georgia! Thanks for getting in touch. Unfortunately, standing water does attract mosquitoes. We don't suggest that you get rid of your birdbath altogether, just to be mindful that you could increase your chances of being bitten if you chose to sit or stand near it in your garden. You can also buy a clever little device called a water agitator or a water wriggler. This will keep standing water moving and prevent bugs from setting up camp! Hope this helped with your concerns.
I find that if you pour vinegar over the affected area this will alleviate this willstop you wanting to itch
There is a lot of info in this article that I, and maybe a lot of other's did not know about, for this I thank you very much. such a thing like teething gel is something I would never have thought of for a bite or sting. I will remember these tips and if possible I will pass them on in the war against bugs and their gnashers and also their nasty bottoms.
We're glad you found our advice useful, Albert!
Some members of my family are never bitten - I am, however, a Mosquito Magnet and react very badly. The two best pieces od advice I can give is 1. Take an anti-histamine (hay-fever) tablet every day for a couple of weeks before you enter Bug Season and 2. Dab your skin with citronella or menthol. I always keep a small container of Vicks (or similar) with me when I go anywhere I'm likely to be bitten.
Thanks for sharing these tips, Jay!
I ALWAYS CARRY AN AFTERBITE PEN - FIND THESE REALLY GOOD!
Hi Karen, I love mine too! Very handy to have on the go.
I first went to Turkey in June 2004 and came home with 27+ mozzy bites. My brother told me to take vitamins B12, Garlic and Zinc, which I started to do. I went back to Turkey four months later (and another eight times after that!) and only came home with the odd bite. I also discovered an After Bite Clicker for when one of the little buggers got me and I now swear by the vitamins and clicker.
That's great to hear, Barbara!
There's an Avon product - Skin So Soft - that some people swear by. I haven't tried it myself but at least it smells nice!
Hi Sandy, I have heard of Skin So Soft! I will have to give it a go. Thanks for sharing.
Be very careful using tweezers to remove a bee sting as the venom sac is also left behind and there is a risk of squeezing any remaining venom into the puncture wound, a safer way is to use a credit card or similar and scrape the sting out from underneath the venom sac. An often effective essential oil for deterring, certainly wasps and hornets, is Geranium oil, I smeared my forearms with Geranium oil on one particularly warm day and watched a wasp flying straight towards me, as soon as it got close enough to detect the oil, it turned away! Useful oils AFTER being stung are Lavender, Camomile and Tea Tree oils, all of which, in addition to being soothing, have mild antiseptic properties BUT, as with all essential oils, particularly when used neat, do a patch test first to ensure that you are not unduly sensitive. Another useful post sting remedy is that good old standby baking soda, make up a small amount into a paste and smear it on the sting site, it will help keep the air from the sting and will help neutralise the acid in the venom, that being said, as already mentioned, vinegar often helps (but not mixed with baking soda!), why vinegar helps when it too is an acid is unclear but work it does, I guess it has a mild anaesthetic effect. Remember, though, people react differently, so there is no guarantee that any of these methods are 100% effective for everyone.
Brilliant advice, Donatello46! Thank you.
Some good advice up there! Can I just add that we all need pollinators like BEES and Hover flies -- We have many insect-attracting plants in our garden and I was delighted to find we had TWO bees nests last year, one in a flower border quite near the house, not honey bees just small bumble types. No stings all summer! They are only interested in the flowers, not the humans in the garden. Teach your kids the difference between Wasps , Bees and the gentle Hover flies (look like small wasps, but have no sting, love pollen and they hover around like tiny helicopters !!) Watch them crawling over the flowers and enjoy! Treat them with respect and they generally will not bother you , they are all struggling to survive. Wasps are the ones more likely to sting, and annoy everyone by hanging around food. They are very irritating, and frightening if they get close, but try not to annoy them ! Maybe set up wasp traps around the edge of your garden?
Hi Mary! We love this advice about teaching your kids about the different types of insects. We wish everyone could have this mindset towards bees and other insects, but we aimed this article at those who may be allergic and need to avoid bees, etc for that reason. We hope that most people will enjoy the company of bees in their garden!
I find a great soother for bites is Austrailian Organic Tee tree Cream from Holland & Barrett. It certainly stops the itching..
Thanks for sharing, Joan!
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