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Insect bites and stings: How to prevent and treat ‘painful’ bites – ‘lower your risk’

NHS advise how to treat an insect bite or sting

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Spending more time outdoors in the summer has endless health benefits, but it can also make you more susceptible to insect bites and stings. While keeping yourself covered up is one way to ward off everything from mosquitos to gnats, it’s not always practical in the warm weather. Most bites and stings can be easily treated at home, but first you need to know what you’re dealing with. spoke to Lead GP of Livi, Dr Rhianna McClymont, who shared her top tips on how to prevent and treat insect bites and stings this summer.

Insects are impossible to avoid while outdoors, and they can be even trickier to get rid of when windows and doors are left open during the hot weather.

Dr Rhianna McClymont told “It’s not only the sun that comes out in summer. Hot weather also brings with it stinging insects and animals.

“Make sure you cover up with loose clothing and use a repellent when you’re outdoors – particularly around water, long grass and woodland.”

She recommended using a DIY insect repellent such as lemon eucalyptus, citronella and linalool oil in a water spray to deter bugs from biting you in the first place.

When it comes to treating bites and stings after they happen, there are plenty of easy ways to soothe pain and itchiness.

How to treat painful bites and stings

According to Dr McClymont, most discomfort and itching from bites and stings is “short-lived”.

Medical attention is usually unnecessary unless you have a known allergy to certain bugs like bees, or if you have a severe reaction after being bitten.

She said: “A cold compress, ice pack or bag of frozen peas should provide sufficient relief.

Hydrocortisone creams, antihistamines and over the counter painkillers may also be necessary in some cases.

Treating bites and stings should be tailored to different types of ‘wounds’ which are typical of common insects found in the UK.


Mosquitoes suck blood through their bite, and while it is often painless at the time, the site can be very itchy after.

Key signs of a mosquito bite include:

  • A puffy and reddish bump
  • A hard, itchy, reddish-brown bump
  • Multiple bumps appearing a day or so after being bitten
  • Small blisters instead of hard bumps

To treat itchiness, Dr McClymont recommended a cold compress, such as frozen peas or an ice pack.

Natural remedies which work well to soothe mosquito bites include:

  • Oats – mix oats into a paste with water and apply to a cloth which can be pressed onto the skin
  • Honey – a small drop of the sweet substance can reduce inflammation while reducing the temptation to itch
  • Aloe vera – aloe vera can be extracted from your own houseplant and applied to the wounded area

If you feel worse after a few days of being bitten, Dr McClymont recommended seeking medical advice.

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There are more than 150 species of biting midges which are commonly found in Scotland, Scandinavia and northern Europe.

Midge bites aren’t dangerous, but can be intensely itchy, and are most likely to happen around water.

According to Dr McClymont: midge bites will sometimes swell and develop into fluid-filled blisters, so scratching should be avoided as much as possible.

A cold compress will work best here, though pain relief may also be needed once the blister has burst.


Horseflies are bigger than houseflies and have larger, multi-coloured eyes and a painful bite.

Dr McClymont warned: “Be careful if you’re running or doing anything strenuous, as there’s evidence that horseflies are attracted by exhaled carbon-dioxide.”

A painful bite calls for a stronger solution, so a cool compress followed by a local anaesthetic spray will work best.

For a natural alternative, mix a few drops of chamomile or clove essential oil with water and spray generously onto the area.

Bees, wasps and hornets

All of these flying insects are attracted to sugary drinks, so when you’re outdoors, avoid drinking from cans and other containers that bees and wasps can fly into.

If you do find yourself battling a hovering bee, wasp or hornet and end up getting stung, it is crucial to remove the sting as quickly as possible, as this is “the key” to reducing pain.

Dr McClymont; “Scrape it out with a credit card, or squeeze it out with your fingers.

“For these particular stings, avoid using tweezers as you can spread the venom.”

To clean the snake, wash straight away with warm soapy water and elevate the area to reduce swelling.

Pressing something cold against the bite can also help reduce puffiness.

Dr McClymont added: “A small proportion of us are allergic to bee and wasp stings.

“Get immediate medical advice from a doctor in the event of breathing difficulties, fast heartbeat, confusion, clammy skin or light-headedness.”


From late May to early June, oak processionary moth caterpillars – which are found throughout Europe – are covered in toxic hairs that, if touched, cause an itchy rash.

These painful hairs can also be carried in the wind, leading to sore throats and eye irritation.

Antihistamine is the best point of call in this instance for anyone aged two and above.

Dr McClymont explained that anyone who suffers from asthma should carry an inhaler and oral histamines at all times to ease throat and eye irritation.

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