Insect Bite Treatment

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Infected Insect Bite

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An insect bite or sting will usually cause a swollen red area to develop on the skin. Most will settle on their own accord within a few hours or days. The severity of bites and stings will differ depending on the type of insect causing it and the sensitivity of the person. 

Sometimes the insect bite can become infected with bacteria. An infection may occur if you scratch an insect bite, or it may be introduced into the skin at the time you are bitten. You may develop symptoms of a wound infection, such as pus or increasing pain, swelling or redness. Infections are usually treated with antibiotics.

Examples of insects that may bite or sting include wasps, hornets, bees, horseflies, ticks, mosquitoes, fleas, spiders, midges and bedbugs.

Some people may develop a mild allergic reaction to the bite or sting. this will usually cause a larger area or redness to develop.

Occasionally a more severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) can occur. This may cause swelling of the face, lips or tongue, dizziness, difficulty in breathing or fainting. This is a medical emergency and requires immediate medical attention. Call 999 if you suspect a medical emergency.

Common Symptoms

The following are possible symptoms you may experience if your insect bite becomes infected:

  • red swollen area of skin
  • itching around the area
  • pain and tenderness affecting the area
  • fluid filled blisters
  • weals - circular, fluid-filled areas surrounding the bite
  • hot skin
  • pus discharging from the wound
  • feeling unwell
  • fever
  • swollen glands
Common Treatments

Speak to your pharmacist for advice on over the counter treatments that may help such as anti-histamines, creams and painkillers.

If your insect bite becomes infected then you may require antibiotics.

Possible treatments we prescribe if clinically appropriate:

  • Flucloxacillin 500mg four times a day - 7 day course (£1.64*)
  • Clarithromycin 500mg twice a day - 7 day course (£1.97*)

*Prices shown are cost price of the medication, taken from the British National Formulary 2018, and are given as a guideline. Pharmacies will usually add a dispensing fee to this which will vary considerably, so it is worthwhile phoning around to compare prices.

Self-help for the symptoms

To treat an insect bite or sting:

  • If there is a sting or tick still in the skin, then remove this.
  • Wash the affected area with soap and water.
  • Apply a cold compress or an ice pack to the area for at least 10 minutes.
  • If possible, elevate the affected area as this can help improve any swelling.
  • Wash your hand before touching the area and avoid scratching it to reduce the risk of infection.
  • Use a cream or spray that contains a local anaesthetic, antihistamine or mild steroid (hydrocortisone 1%) on the affected area to help reduce itching and swelling. Your pharmacist can advise on this.
  • Take an antihistamine tablet to help reduce swelling. Please read the information leaflet contained with the medication to check it's suitability.
  • If the area is painful then take painkillers, such as paracetamol or ibuprofen. Please read the information leaflet contained with the medication to check it's suitability or speak to your pharmacist if you are unsure.
Risk factors

You're more likely to be bitten or stung if you work outdoors or regularly take part in outdoor activities, such as camping or hiking. Risk factors include:

  • large areas of exposed skin
  • dark clothing
  • eating outside
  • exposure to hives or nests
  • floral perfume
  • loose clothing
  • participating in outdoor recreation
  • working outside
Allergic Reactions

An itchy rash, swollen face or mouth, or difficulty in breathing, may be signs that you are allergic to the insect bite. 

Please note that i-GP DOES NOT TREAT Medical Emergencies. For Medical Emergencies please call 999.

If you develop a sudden onset of any of the symptoms below then you must STOP the medication immediately and seek urgent medical advice. This could be from your GP, Out of Hours Service, Urgent Care Centre or NHS 111. Call an ambulance using 999 or go to A&E if the symptoms are severe.

  • wheeze
  • difficulty in Breathing
  • swelling of the eyelids, face or lips
  • a rash particularly if affecting your entire body
  • drowsiness or confusion
  • dizziness or feeling faint
  • chest pain or a fast heart rate

The most common complications of an insect bite are secondary bacterial infections. This can include the following:

  • impetigo - a very contagious bacterial infection that causes sores, crusting or blisters.
  • cellulitis - a skin infection that makes your skin red, hot, swollen and painful.
  • folliculitis - inflammation of your hair follicles.
  • lymphangitis - an infection that causes red streaks in your armpit or groin and swollen lymph nodes.

Other complications include:

  • Lyme disease: caused by tick bites
  • Malaria: caused by mosquito bites

Please be aware that mosquito bites in certain areas of tropical countries can cause malaria. If you have had an insect bite while abroad in an at-risk area and develop any of the symptoms below, then it is important to see a doctor straight away for further tests.

  • a high temperature (fever)
  • sweats and chills
  • headaches
  • vomiting
  • diarrhoea
  • muscle pains

Symptoms usually start between seven and eighteen days after being bitten by a mosquito, but in some cases, the symptoms may not appear for up to a year, or occasionally even longer. A blood test can determine whether you have malaria or not. 

Malaria is found in mainly tropical regions including:

  • large areas of Africa and Asia
  • Central and South America
  • Haiti and the Dominican Republic
  • parts of the Middle East
  • some Pacific islands

Please check the Fit for Travel website for country-specific information about Malaria and advice on anti-malaria medication before travel. 

Preventing insect bites

There are some precautions that you can take to reduce your risk of being bitten or stung by an insect. These are listed below.

Don't panic

  • move away slowly and don't wave your arms around if you encounter wasps, hornets or bees.

Cover exposed skin

  • by wearing long sleeves and trousers if you're outside at a time of day when insects are particularly active, such as sunrise or sunset.

Keep food and drink covered

  • when eating or drinking outside, particularly sweet things. Wasps or bees can also get into open drink bottles or cans you're drinking from.

Avoid using scented products

  • as these can attract insects; such as strong perfumes, soaps, shampoos and deodorants.

Wear shoes outdoors

Apply Insect Repellant

  • to exposed areas of skin, especially in the summer or early autumn, when insect stings are most likely to occur.

Avoid keeping house or car doors and windows wide open

  • or put thin netting or door beads over them to prevent insects getting inside the house.

Avoid areas that attract insects such as:

  • flowering plants, outdoor areas where food is served and areas with rubbish and compost if you can.

In your garden:

  • remove any fallen fruit in your garden regularly and keep a tight-fitting lid on dustbins.

Do not disturb insect nests:

  • wasps build nests in sheltered areas such as trees and roof spaces; if you suspect a nest is in or near your house, arrange to have it removed.

Avoid camping near water

  • such as ponds and lakes as mosquitoes and horseflies are commonly found near water.

Start an insect bite diagnosis

Do you think you have an infected
insect bite?

We could diagnose and send you a treatment plan with a prescription, if appropriate, within an hour.