Insect bites occur when a puncture wound to the skin is caused by an insect and the insect releases saliva. In Ireland the most common biting insects are midges, fleas, mosquitoes, ticks and bedbugs. Insect bites can cause irritation, redness and swelling and sometimes blisters. Stinging insects such as bees and wasps inject venom as a defence mechanism to immobilise their prey. They inject the host via the use of a ‘stinger’. Sometimes individuals can develop allergic reactions to stings. These reactions can range from mild reactions that are local to the area where the sting occurred, or, less often can cause a severe reaction such as anaphylaxis.
Treatment of Bites and Stings
Most bites and stings will require minor treatment to relieve itch and/or discomfort. Taking an antihistamine such as Cetriz or Zirtek liquid (for younger children) will help relieve itching. Additional relief can be given by using a cream such as Anthisan Cream or Hydrocortisone 1%.
Bites and Stings Advice
- Remove any stingers carefully using a sterilised tweezers.
- Apply ice to the site to provide some mild relief.
- Take an antihistamine as described above.
- A pain killer/anti-inflammatory such as Nurofen may provide additional relief if required.
- Most stings will require no additional medical care.
- Avoid midge and mosquito bites by wearing long loose clothing and by applying insect repellent such as Jungle Formula.
- If bed bugs are suspected, clean bed linen and clothing at high temperatures, scrub mattress seams with a stiff brush and vacuum the bed and surrounding area.
- In the case of a tick bite ensure the entire tick is removed. Monitor for symptoms of a rash or flu-like symptoms in the weeks after. Consult your GP if this happens.
Treating someone who has anaphylaxis
Anaphylaxis is a severe, potentially life-threatening, allergic reaction caused by a variety of allergens including insect stings, nuts (particularly peanuts), shellfish and some medications. About 0.3% - 5% of the population is allergic to insect stings (mainly bees and wasps), and some, not all, cases are life threatening). Symptoms of anaphylaxis include:
- Breathing difficulties
- Changes to the skin such as itchy skin rash which may be widespread
- Swelling of the lips, tongue, eyes and throat, feeling like there is a lump in the throat.
- Dizziness, changes in blood pressure
- An impending feeling of doom
If you suspect someone is experiencing anaphylaxis call for an ambulance immediately. If you can see a potential trigger such as a sting remove this. If the person has an adrenaline autoinjector with them, it should be injected firmly into the thigh muscle and held in place for 10 seconds. (Devices vary slightly in how they are used but the packaging includes clear instructions). The person may be able to do this themselves or you may have to do it for them. If there is no improvement after 5 minutes a second dose should be given if its available. If the patient is unconscious they should be placed in the recovery position. If breathing stops, cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) should be performed.
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