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Adeel Arshad

Authored on 24 January 2024 by Adeel Arshad,

Reviewed 24 January 2024 by Dr Ruch Karunadasa.

What Are Insect Bites?

Be it in self-defence or just to feed, insects can make puncture wounds or lacerations on your skin, and these wounds are known as insect bites. An insect bite might appear as a painful or itchy tiny red bump on your skin.

Insects that bite or sting include, mosquitoes, wasps, ants, fleas, arachnids, flies, and bees, and most of these inject formic acid into your skin which commonly leads to inflammation and swelling. Less commonly, an infection might complicate the initial bite or sting, resulting in hardening of the surrounding skin with pus discharge. Moreover, flu-like symptoms and fever might also indicate infection of the bite. Itchy insect bites can lead to repeated scratching and subsequent scarring.

Insects such as ants, bees, or wasps, rarely attack if left unbothered, but in case of a bite, you should at least know what to look for. The site of the bite might be painful right after the encounter and an allergic reaction may also occur, which usually does not cause more than minor discomfort.

Different insect bites appear differently. Mosquito bites are quick to appear and show up as tiny bumps which are hard and quite itchy. These clear up within 2 to 3 hours. On the other hand, Fire ant bites, as well as spider bites, may be considered a medical emergency calling for immediate attention. Fire ant bites show up as red spots with a blister on top. These are commonly associated with an allergic reaction, with generalised swelling and shortness of breath.

Most spiders are harmless while others might cause a serious reaction. The bite site appears as two puncture marks resulting in a pimple containing pus or a wheal. These burn as well as itch and may appear in a week or two after the bite. Some spider bites such as that of a Black widow are venomous, appearing as a red rash with a yellow centre and causing muscle spasms, tremors, and chills.

Other bites such as tick bites appear as a rash with a burning sensation all over the skin. Serious conditions such as scabies might develop if you are bitten by a mite, and these appear as extremely itchy pimples occurring especially between your fingers. These lesions itch immensely at night.

Rarely, insect bites are serious, especially if you are allergic to insect venom. In this case, you might experience shortness of breath, dizziness, and swelling that appears over a larger area than the bite site, which calls for immediate medical help. Other than this, most bites vanish within a day or two and can safely be managed at home.

Treatment Of Insect Bites

Most insect bites can be treated at home. Treatment depends on the severity of the bite and its reaction. For mild cases, you can treat an insect bite by removing the sting if it's still in, rinsing with cold water and applying cold compresses. This might help you ease pain and decrease swelling. In case of pain, a pain reliever such as Paracetamol might help. In case the bite site is extremely itchy for longer than a few hours, you may use soothing skin ointments such as crotamiton. A steroid cream may also come in handy to decrease inflammation. In case you develop a localised allergic skin reaction at the site of the bite, you may take antihistamine tablets which may help you manage the ongoing reaction. In case you develop a generalised reaction, you should seek immediate help. If you experience even one or two symptoms such as trouble breathing, generalised swelling, dizziness, or a weak pulse, call for help immediately.

Prevention is key when it comes to insect bites, especially in humid warm weather. Physical barriers that protect your skin, such as nets or clothes covering most of your skin, can help. Long sleeves and long pants are the way to go if you want to avoid these bugs. Along with this, you may avoid wearing coloured clothing in areas with insects, and wear gloves while gardening. Insect repellent creams can be useful in places you cannot cover.

Avoid going to bushy areas as these have a lot of bugs in them and use less scented cosmetics as these attract insects. Try to cover drinks and garbage cans as well containers with stagnant water, which might serve as a breeding site for mosquitoes.

Skin consultation £19.99

Skin consultation £19.99

Our simple consultation first process enables you to complete a consultation with a doctor, submitting photos of the affected skin and answering a set of questions that will enable a diagnosis where possible.

Common skin conditions can even include:

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Frequently asked questions about insect bites

  • Who is at risk for insect bites?

    Insect bites are quite common, but some people are prone to them. These include people that spend most of their time outdoors in wooded areas or near forests.

  • When to seek medical advice?

    If you are worried about a bite and the symptoms have not improved over a few days, or getting worse, you may want to seek medical advice as soon as possible. Pus from the wound site or excruciating pain calls for immediate medical assistance. If you develop a generalised allergic reaction, consider emergency care immediately.

  • What are the danger signs?

    Signs of generalised allergic reaction are danger signs one should look out for. Some danger signs are:

    • Wheezing or shortness of breath
    • Generalised swelling especially around the mouth or throat
    • Weak but fast pulse with a low blood pressure
    • Difficulty in swallowing
    • Dizziness
  • Who is at risk of developing a serious reaction?

    If you have had an allergic reaction to a bite previously, you might experience one again, if an insect bites you. In case you have an allergy to multiple allergens, you might develop an allergic reaction to an insect bite as well. In most cases, it is not easy to predict if someone would develop a serious reaction or not.

  • How to know if a bite is infected?

    Pus draining from the bite site is often a sign of infection. Redness and tenderness in the area that does not go away in a few days, along with other generalised symptoms such as nausea, fever, and feeling of being unwell, many indicate an infection. Seeking a professional review is the way to go in such cases.

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