Insect bites and stings are painful but there are no insects native to the UK that carry potentially fatal venom from a single sting or bite. Biting insects include mosquitoes and fleas; stinging insects include wasps and bees. Stings and insect bites are not usually serious unless there is an allergic reaction. Allergic reactions to stings from insects such as bees appear to be increasingly common and these can be life-threatening. Stings in the mouth or throat are also dangerous as the swelling they cause can block the airway.
Stings and bites
A sting is felt as a sudden sharp pain and appears as a raised white patch on a reddened area of skin. A bite is less painful and usually causes mild discomfort and skin inflammation.
Potentially life-threatening responses to stings and bites
This is an allergic reaction to a substance with which the body is in contact. Bee stings are amongst the most common cause. Anaphylaxis can develop within seconds and can be fatal.
While one sting is unlikely to cause problems on a major scale for an otherwise healthy adult, several stings may provoke a dangerous response.
Reaction to venom
Insects native to the UK are unlikely to cause problems for an otherwise healthy adult but dangerous insects may be found as pets in the UK or in everyday venues when on holiday overseas.
Stings to mouth and throat
Any sting to the mouth or throat should be treated with care as subsequent swelling may cause difficulty with breathing.
Signs and symptoms of a life-threatening reaction
- Difficulty breathing
- Swollen lips, tongue and throat
- Blotchy skin
- Casualty has felt a bite or sting (sometimes this may be described as a scratch)
- Pain, swelling and reddening over the site of the bite or sting
First Aid Treatment
- Monitor and maintain airway and breathing. Be prepared to resuscitate if necessary.
- If the casualty is a known sufferer of anaphylaxis, he may have an auto-injector that contains life-saving medicine. Help him to find this as quickly as possible and, if necessary, help to administer it.
- If the casualty is conscious, help into the most comfortable position (this will usually be sitting up).
- If the sting was in the mouth, give the casualty an ice cube to suck or frequent sips of cold water.
- Call an ambulance and explain what has happened, identifying the insect if possible.
- Make an attempt to identify what the casualty has been bitten or stung by but do not put yourself at risk.
Ordinary bites and stings
Signs and symptoms
- Reddening, pain and swelling over the site of the sting
- Person has felt a bite or sting
- Sting left in the skin (if from a bee)
First Aid Treatment
- If you can see the sting, remove it by flicking with the edge of a piece of plastic such as a credit card, or with tweezers. Take care not to squeeze the poison sac at the end of the sting.
- Wash the affected area to reduce the risk of infection entering the wound.
- Apply a cold compress to the site to reduce pain and swelling.
- Remove rings, watches or anything likely to cause a constriction if the area swells.
- Advise the casualty to see a doctor if pain persists or there are any signs of infection.