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Insect bites, stings and burns 

July 11, 2023
Insect bites, stings and burns 
July 11, 2023

Is it even summer if you haven’t been stung by an insect or waded unknowingly into a patch of nettles? 


This time of year, being outdoors or on holiday can be lovely but it isn’t without its irritations and dangers, thanks to bugs, creatures and poisonous plants.


But before you grab a dock leaf for a nettle sting, or google how to treat a bee sting, here’s ZoomDoc’s guide to treating common bites, stings and rashes, including when to see the doctor about them, and what not to do – despite what you may have read.


Bee stings


Insect bites and stings will usually cause a red, swollen lump to develop on the skin.


If you’re unlucky enough to get stung by a bee, start by removing the stinger if it is still in your skin. 


Don’t use tweezers to try and grab it as this can squeeze more poison into the skin. Instead take a credit card or use a clean fingernail to scrape it sideways and away. Then wash the skin with warm water and soap.


Bee stings can feel incredibly painful as well as burning and itchy so treat the pain and inflammation by: 


  • applying an ice pack
  • taking age-appropriate painkillers (paracetamol or ibuprofen)
  • taking antihistamines to calm the reaction
  • applying hydrocortisone cream to stop the itching and swelling.


Wasps don’t tend to leave a stinger in the skin but can be treated similarly for the pain.


Bee stings can sometimes cause a serious allergic reaction that needs immediate medical attention. If you have any of the following symptoms, call 999:


  • skin rash or itchy, red, swollen, blistered or peeling skin
  • wheezing, tightness in the chest or throat or trouble breathing or talking
  • mouth, face, lips, tongue or throat start swelling.


Nettle stings


Nettle stings can be itchy and you may feel a stinging or burning sensation.


We all know the feeling of nettle stings, which can be pretty unpleasant if you brush past lots of them without realising. 


Before you go searching for dock leaves to soothe the skin, there’s actually no evidence that these help. However, some experts think rubbing the leaf on irritated nettle-stung skin may offer some distraction to the pain, so there’s no harm in trying!


Nettle stings can leave skin sore, itchy and with a burning sensation. You may notice a patch of raised bumps on the skin, too.


The best way to calm the allergic reaction of nettle stings is by:


  • cooling the skin with an ice pack, cool bath or shower 
  • taking antihistamines to calm the reaction


The skin should calm down after 24 hours. If you experience any unusual symptoms or the rash gets worse, not better, see your GP.


Giant hogweed burn


Contact with giant hogweed sap, combined with exposure to light, causes pain and skin lesions similar to burns.


Although it may look innocent, there’s a reason giant hogweed has been labelled Britain’s ‘most dangerous plant’ in recent years. 


Its sap is highly poisonous and it can cause third degree burns to skin, causing blistering and requiring hospital treatment.


NHS guidance says to:

  • wash skin with soap and water
  • seek medical attention by calling 111 or going straight to A&E .


And of course, avoid it if you do come across it, usually near streams, rivers and waterways.


See what giant hogweed plants look like here.


Mosquito bites


Mosquito bites are round, usually puffy, and severely itchy.


We tend to think of mosquitos as a topical holiday nuisance but they can bother us here in the UK, too. The best thing is to try to prevent being bitten by using mosquito-repellent spray on exposed skin (ankles, legs, arms), especially if you’re sitting outdoors on a summer’s evening.


Luckily mosquito bites in this country and in Europe won’t do too much harm. At their worst, they can be extremely itchy and can swell up into a large blister, if you’re allergic to them. 


The NHS advises:


  • trying not to scratch them, to avoid getting them infected
  • putting a cold cloth over the bite to help soothe the itch
  • applying ‘bite relief’ creams, such as Anthisan, or a hydrocortisone
  • taking antihistamines to reduce the reaction and calm any itching.


Jellyfish stings


Most stings from sea creatures in the UK are not serious and can be treated with first aid.


They may sound exotic but jellyfish stings can be excruciating. Although some say vinegar is the best remedy for its alkalinity, the NHS doesn’t recommend using this, nor peeing on it. 


Hopefully a lifeguard will be on duty if you’ve come across them in the sea or on the beach. But if not, according to the NHS, the best way to treat the sting is by:


  • rinsing the affected area with seawater (not fresh water)
  • removing any spines from the skin using tweezers or the edge of a bank card
  • soaking the area in very warm water (as hot as can be tolerated) for at least 30 minutes – use hot flannels or towels if you cannot soak it
  • taking painkillers like paracetamol or ibuprofen.


If the pain gets worse, not better or you have any other unusual symptoms, such as bleeding, vomiting or seizures, call 999 or go to A&E.


Tick bites


Ticks are small, spider-like creatures which feed on the blood of birds and mammals, including humans.


If you and your family are heading into the countryside this summer, be aware of ticks. These tiny black creatures can (although not always) carry a bacteria that causes Lyme disease, an unpleasant infection that can make you quite unwell and be hard to diagnose and treat. 


If you get bitten by a tick you may not always notice it, but here’s what the NHS recommends if you do. 


  • if you can still see the tick on the skin, remove it using tweezers or a tick-removal tool
  • clean the area with soap and water.


If you notice an unusual red bull’s-eye mark on your skin, see your GP as you may need a precautionary course of antibiotics for an infected tick bite.


Read more about Lyme disease here.


For any summer-related health concerns, such as allergies or needing travel-related medical certificates, visit ZoomDoc.


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