Most insect bites and stings are not serious and will get better within a few hours or days.
But occasionally they can become infected, cause a severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) or spread serious illnesses such as Lyme disease and malaria.
Bugs that bite or sting include wasps, hornets, bees, horseflies, ticks, mosquitoes, fleas, bedbugs, spiders and midges.
This page covers:
What to do if you've been bitten or stung
When to get medical advice
When to get emergency medical help
Insect bites and stings will usually cause a red, swollen lump to develop on the skin. This may be painful and in some cases can be very itchy.
The symptoms will normally improve within a few hours or days, although sometimes they can last a little longer.
Some people have a mild allergic reaction and a larger area of skin around the bite or sting becomes swollen, red and painful. This should pass within a week.
Occasionally, a severe allergic reaction can occur, causing symptoms such as breathing difficulties, dizziness and a swollen face or mouth. This requires immediate medical treatment (see below).
Read more about the symptoms of common insect bites and stings.
To treat an insect bite or sting:
The pain, swelling and itchiness can sometimes last a few days. Ask your pharmacist about over-the-counter treatments that can help, such as painkillers, creams for itching and antihistamines.
Read more about treatments for insect bites and stings.
Contact your GP or call NHS 111 for advice if:
Dial 999 for an ambulance immediately if you or someone else has symptoms of a severe reaction, such as:
Emergency treatment in hospital is needed in these cases.
There are some simple precautions you can take to reduce your risk of being bitten or stung by insects.
For example, you should:
You may need to take extra precautions if you're travelling to part of the world where there's a risk of serious illnesses. For example, you may be advised to take antimalarial tablets to help prevent malaria.
Read more about how to prevent insect bites and stings.
An insect bite or sting often causes a small, red lump on the skin, which may be painful and itchy.
Many bites will clear up within a few hours or days and can be safely treated at home. Read more about treating bites and stings.
It can be difficult to identify what you were bitten or stung by if you didn't see it happen. But don't worry if you're not sure – the treatment for most bites and stings is similar.
Common insect bites and stings include:
A wasp or hornet sting causes a sudden, sharp pain at first. A swollen red mark may then form on your skin, which can last a few hours and may be painful and itchy.
Sometimes a larger area around the sting can be painful, red and swollen for up to a week. This is a minor allergic reaction that isn't usually anything to worry about.
A few people may experience a serious allergic reaction (anaphylaxis), causing breathing difficulties, dizziness and a swollen face or mouth. Dial 999 for an ambulance immediately if you have these symptoms.
A bee sting feels similar to a wasp sting, but the sting will often be left in the wound. See treating insect bites for advice about how to remove this safely.
The sting can cause pain, redness and swelling for a few hours. As with wasp stings, some people may have a mild allergic reaction that lasts up to a week.
Serious allergic reactions can also occasionally occur, causing breathing difficulties, dizziness and a swollen face or mouth. Dial 999 for an ambulance immediately if you have these symptoms.
Bites from mosquitoes often cause small red lumps on your skin. These are usually very itchy. Some people may also develop fluid-filled blisters.
Mosquitoes don't cause major harm in the UK, but in some parts of the world they can spread serious illnesses such as malaria.
Get medical help right away if you develop worrying symptoms, such as a fever, chills, headaches and vomiting, after a mosquito bite abroad.
Tick bites aren't usually painful, so you may not realise you've been bitten straight away.
Symptoms of a tick bite can include:
Ticks in the UK can sometimes carry a potentially serious infection called Lyme disease, so they should be removed as soon as possible if you find one attached to your skin. See treating insect bites for advice about how to do this safely.
See your GP if you develop any symptoms of Lyme disease, such as a rash that looks like a "bull's-eye" on a dart board or a fever.
A bite from a horsefly can be very painful and the bitten area of skin will usually be red and raised.
You may also experience:
Horsefly bites can take a while to heal and can become infected. See your GP if you have symptoms of an infection, such as pus or increasing pain, redness and swelling.
Midge and gnat bites often look similar to mosquito bites.
They usually cause small, red lumps that can be painful and very itchy, and can sometimes swell up alarmingly.
Some people may also develop fluid-filled blisters.
Bedbug bites typically occur on the face, neck, hands or arms. They're typically found in straight lines across the skin.
The bites aren't usually painful, and if you've not been bitten by bedbugs before, you may not have any symptoms.
If you have been bitten before, you may develop itchy red bumps that can last for several days.
Mite bites cause very itchy red lumps to develop on the skin and can sometimes also cause blisters.
Mites usually bite uncovered skin, but you may be bitten on your tummy and thighs if your pet has mites and has been sitting on your lap.
Some mites burrow into the skin and cause a condition called scabies.
Flea bites can cause small, itchy red lumps that are sometimes grouped in lines or clusters. Blisters may also occasionally develop.
Fleas from cats and dogs often bite below the knee, commonly around the ankles. You may also get flea bites on your forearms if you've been stroking or holding your pet.
Bites from spiders in the UK are uncommon, but some native spiders – such as the false widow spider (see image above) – are capable of giving a nasty bite.
Spider bites leave small puncture marks on the skin, which can be painful and cause redness and swelling.
Some spiders in the UK are venomous and their bites can cause nausea, vomiting, sweating and dizziness. Bites can also become infected or cause a severe allergic reaction in rare cases. Get medical help immediately if you have any severe or worrying symptoms after a spider bite.
The most common ant in the UK, the black garden variety, doesn't sting or bite, but red ants (see image above), wood ants and flying ants sometimes do.
Ant bites and stings are generally harmless, although you'll probably feel a nip and a pale pink mark may develop on your skin.
Sometimes the bitten area may be painful, itchy and swollen.
All ladybirds can bite, but a type called the harlequin ladybird found throughout much of the UK is more aggressive and tends to bite more often.
The harlequin ladybird can be red or orange with multiple spots. Look out for a white spot on its head – other ladybirds don't have these patches.
Ladybird bites can be painful, but aren't usually anything to worry about.
Flower bugs are common insects that feed on aphids and mites. You can identify the common flower bug by its tiny oval body, reflective wings and orange-brown legs (see image above).
Flower bugs bites can be painful and very itchy, and are often slow to heal.
The caterpillars of the oak processionary moth are a real pest. They were first found in the UK in 2006 and are now in London and parts of southeast England.
In late spring and summer, the caterpillars have thousands of tiny hairs that can cause itchy rashes, eye problems and sore throats – and very occasionally breathing difficulties. The caterpillars walk up and down trees in nose-to-tail processions.
If you find them, or spot one of their white silken nests, report it to the Forestry Commission or to your local council.
Read about dealing with caterpillar hairs for advice about what to do if you come into contact with these caterpillars.
Most insect bites will improve within a few hours or days and can be treated at home.
First aid for insect bites and stings
Removing a sting
Removing a tick
Dealing with caterpillar hairs
Relieving the symptoms of an insect bite or sting
When to get emergency help
The pain, swelling and itchiness can sometimes last a few days. See below for advice about how to relieve the symptoms of an insect bite or sting in the meantime.
If you've been stung and the sting has been left in your skin, you should remove it as soon as possible to prevent any more venom being released.
Scrape it out sideways with something with a hard edge, such as a bank card, or your fingernails if you don't have anything else to hand.
Don't pinch the sting with your fingers or tweezers because you may spread the venom.
If you've been bitten by a tick and it's still attached to your skin, remove it as soon as possible to reduce your risk of picking up illnesses such as Lyme disease.
To remove a tick:
If you use a tick removal tool follow the manufacturer's instructions.
Don't use a lit cigarette end, a match head or substances such as alcohol or petroleum jelly to force the tick out.
If a caterpillar of the oak processionary moth gets on your skin:
Don't towel yourself dry after rinsing or use creams containing antihistamine.
If you have troublesome symptoms after an insect bite or sting, the following treatments may help:
See your GP if these treatments don't help. They may prescribe stronger medicines such as steroid tablets.
It's particularly important to follow this advice if you've had a bad reaction to an insect bite or sting in the past or you're travelling to an area where there's a risk of picking up a serious illness.
Basic precautions to prevent insect bites and stings
Avoiding tick bites
Extra precautions when travelling abroad
The following measures can help you avoid insect bites and stings:
Ticks are small spider-like creatures that are mainly found in woodland and heath areas. They attach to your skin, suck your blood and can cause Lyme disease in some cases.
You can reduce your risk of being bitten by a tick if you:
It's important to remove any ticks you find as soon as possible. Find out how to safely remove a tick.
The risk of becoming seriously ill from an insect bite or sting in the UK is small, but in some parts of the world insects can carry serious diseases such as malaria and you need to be extra careful.
In addition to the precautions mentioned above, it can help to:
Read more about travel illnesses and vaccinations.
If you've been bitten by fleas, mites or bedbugs, you may have an infestation in your home. Try to find the source of the infestation before taking steps to eliminate it.
The following are signs of an infestation:
Speak to your vet if you're unsure whether your pet has fleas or mites.
Once you've identified the cause of the infestation, you'll need to eliminate it.
For flea infestations, treat the animal, its bedding, household carpets and soft furnishings with an insecticide. Thoroughly vacuum your carpets and soft furnishings.
For mite infestations, you should seek advice from your vet as aggressive treatment is required.
For bedbug infestations, your home will need to be thoroughly treated with an insecticide by a reputable pest control company. GOV.UK has details of details of pest control services and information about how your local council can help.
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