Insect bites and stings 


10 UK insects that bite or sting

Get the lowdown on our most pesky creatures, such as wasps, bees, spiders, ladybirds, midges and mosquitoes

Insect bites and stings are common and usually cause only minor irritation. However, some stings can be painful and trigger a serious allergic reaction.

In the UK, insects that bite include midges, mosquitoes, fleas, bedbugs and although not strictly insects, spiders, mites and ticks, which are arachnids

In the UK, insects that sting include bees, wasps and hornets.

An insect bites you by making a hole in your skin to feed. Most insects sting as a defence by injecting venom into your skin.

Symptoms of an insect bite or sting

When an insect bites, it releases saliva that can cause skin around the bite to become red, swollen and itchy. The venom from a sting often also causes a swollen, itchy, red mark (a weal) to form on the skin. This can be painful, but is harmless in most cases. The affected area will usually remain painful and itchy for a few days.

The severity of bites and stings varies depending on the type of insect and sensitivity of the person.

In rare cases, some people can have a serious allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) to a bite or sting that requires immediate medical treatment.

Read more about the symptoms of insect bites and stings.

Should I see a doctor?

See your GP if you have a lot of swelling and blistering, or if there is pus, which indicates an infection.

Call 999 and ask for an ambulance if you experience any of these symptoms following a bite or sting:

  • wheezing or difficulty breathing
  • nausea, vomiting or diarrhoea
  • a fast heart rate
  • dizziness or feeling faint
  • difficulty swallowing (dysphagia)
  • confusion, anxiety or agitation

Read more about complications of an insect bite or sting.

Treating insect bites and stings

Most bites and stings are treated by:

  • washing the affected area with soap and water
  • placing a cold compress (a flannel or cloth soaked in cold water) over the area to reduce swelling

Try not to scratch the affected area to avoid infection and if you are in pain or the area is swollen, take painkillers, such as paracetamol or ibuprofen.

If you have a more serious reaction, your GP may prescribe other medication or refer you to an allergy clinic for immunotherapy.

Read more information about treating insect bites and stings.

Preventing insect bites and stings

You are more likely to be bitten or stung if you work outdoors or regularly take part in outdoor activities, such as camping or hiking.

Wearing insect repellent and keeping your skin covered will help avoid a bite or a sting.

Try not to panic if you encounter wasps, hornets or bees and back away slowly (do not wave your arms around or swat at them).

Read more about preventing insect bites and stings.

Travelling abroad

There is a risk of catching diseases from insect bites, such as malaria, in other parts of the world such as:

  • Africa
  • Asia
  • South America

It is important to be aware of any risks before travelling and get any necessary medication or vaccination.

Read more information about travel illnesses and vaccinations.

Last reviewed: 20/06/2012

Next review due: 20/06/2014


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Comments are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

User709598 said on 13 September 2012

Am I allowed to use some of the information on this page on my own website? I'll give proper credit! In case you need it, my site is [url][/url]

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Keega12 said on 06 August 2012

The article doesn't say they are countries.

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aph975 said on 25 May 2012

Africa, Asia and South America are continents not countries.

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