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Insect bites and stings

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.

Symptoms of insect bites and stings

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.

What to do if you've been bitten or stung

To treat an insect bite or sting:

The pain, swelling and itchiness can sometimes last a few days. Ask your pharmacist about medicines that can help, such as painkillers, creams for itching and antihistamines.

Read more about treating insect bites and stings.

When to get medical advice

Contact your GP or call NHS 111 for advice if:

When to get emergency medical help

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.

Prevent insect bites and stings

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 preventing insect bites and stings.