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Symptoms - Insect bites and stings

The main symptoms of an insect bite or sting are:

  • pain or itchiness where you were bitten or stung
  • a swollen lump on the skin

The lump may look red. But this may be more difficult to see on black or brown skin.

Different insect bites and stings will cause different symptoms.

Wasp and bee stings

A bee sting shown on white skin. There is a red swollen mark where the skin was stung.

Wasp and bee stings cause a sharp pain in the area that's been stung. This usually lasts a few seconds.

Wasp and bee stings may cause:

  • a swollen, itchy and painful mark to form - this may look red on some skin tones
  • a mild allergic reaction that lasts up to a week
  • a serious allergic reaction

A bee stinger usually stays in the wound.

How to remove a stinger

Emergency action required: Call 999, 112 or go to your nearest emergency department (ED) if

you've had a serious allergic reaction to an insect bite or sting before or you have symptoms of a serious allergic reaction, such as:

  • wheezing or difficulty breathing
  • a swollen face, mouth, lips, tongue or throat
  • eye pain or conjunctivitis
  • nausea or vomiting
  • a fast heart rate
  • dizziness or feeling faint
  • difficulty swallowing
  • loss of consciousness
  • a skin rash that may include itchy, red, swollen, blistered or peeling skin

Mosquito, midge or gnat bites

A mosquito bite shown on brown skin. There is a small raised lump where the skin was bitten.

Mosquito, midge and gnat bites can cause small lumps on your skin. They are usually very itchy.

Some people may develop fluid-filled blisters.

Mosquitoes do not cause major harm in Ireland. But in some parts of the world, they can cause malaria.

Taking care when travelling abroad

Horsefly bites

A side-by-side image of a small winged horsefly (left) and a horsefly bite shown on white skin. There is a round red area where the skin was bitten.

A horsefly bite can be very painful. The bitten area of skin is usually raised and may look red on some skin tones.

You may also experience:

  • a large raised rash called hives or urticaria
  • dizziness
  • weakness
  • wheezing
  • parts of your body becoming puffy and swollen

Horsefly bites can take a long time to heal and can become infected.

Non-urgent advice: Speak to your GP if

you have symptoms of a wound infection such as:

  • pus
  • increasing pain
  • redness
  • swelling

Flea bites

A cluster of flea bites shown on white skin. They are red raised bumps.

Flea bites can cause small, itchy lumps. They are sometimes grouped in lines or clusters. They may look red on some skin tones. Blisters may also develop.

Fleas from cats and dogs often bite below the knee, usually around the ankles. You can also get flea bites on your arms if you've been stroking or holding your pet.

Bed bug bites

A side-by-side image of three bed bugs (left) and bed bug bites shown on the legs of someone with white skin (right). There are red raised bumps where the skin was bitten.

Bed bug bites usually happen on your:

  • face
  • neck
  • hands
  • arms

The bites typically appear in a straight line on the skin.

They are not usually painful.

If you have not been bitten by bed bugs before, you may not have any symptoms.

If you have been bitten before, you may develop itchy bumps. These generally clear up on their own within a week.

Easing your symptoms

Tick bites

Small red tick attached to the skin.

Tick bites are not usually painful.

Symptoms of a tick bite can include:

  • a small lump on the skin - this may look red on some skin tones
  • swelling
  • itchiness
  • blistering
  • bruising

Ticks in Ireland can sometimes carry a serious infection called Lyme disease.

Important

Remove any ticks you find as soon as possible to reduce your risk of getting Lyme disease

How to remove a tick

Non-urgent advice: Speak to your GP if

you develop any symptoms of Lyme disease such as:

  • a fever
  • a rash that looks like a bull's-eye on a dart board

Mite bites

Mite bites shown on white skin. There are small red lumps where the skin was bitten.

Mite bites cause very itchy lumps to develop on the skin. They can also cause blisters.

Mites usually bite uncovered skin. You may be bitten on your tummy and thighs if your pet has mites and has been sitting on your lap.

Some mites burrow into the skin and cause a condition called scabies.

Spider bites

A false widow spider.
A false widow spider.

Spider bites are not common in Ireland. But some spiders such as the false widow spider are capable of giving a nasty bite.

Spider bites leave small puncture marks on the skin. These can be painful and cause redness and swelling.

Some spiders in Ireland are venomous.

Their bites can cause:

  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • sweating
  • dizziness
  • a serious allergic reaction in rare cases

Bites can become infected.

Emergency action required: Call 999, 112 or go to your nearest emergency department (ED) if

you've a had a serious allergic reaction to an insect bite or sting before or you have symptoms of a serious allergic reaction, such as:

  • wheezing or difficulty breathing
  • a swollen face, mouth, lips, tongue or throat
  • eye pain or conjunctivitis
  • nausea or vomiting
  • a fast heart rate
  • dizziness or feeling faint
  • difficulty swallowing
  • loss of consciousness
  • a skin rash that may include itchy, red, swollen, blistered or peeling skin

Ant stings and bites

The most common ant in Ireland is the black garden variety. It doesn't sting or bite. But red ants, wood ants and flying ants sometimes do.

Ant bites and stings are generally harmless. You'll probably feel a nip and a mark may develop on your skin. This mark may look pale pink on some skin tones.

Sometimes the bitten area may be painful, itchy and swollen.

Caterpillar hairs

A side-by-side image of oak processionary moth caterpillars on an oak tree (left) and a rash on someone with white skin (right). There are raised bumps where the skin is reacting to the caterpillar hairs.
The body of the oak processionary moth caterpillars is covered with irritating hairs (left). Their tiny hairs can cause a large raised rash called urticaria (right).

Caterpillars of the oak processionary moth are harmful. They have tiny hairs that can be blown around by the wind.

These hairs can cause:

  • different types of rashes
  • itchy skin
  • eye and throat irritation
  • breathing difficulties in people and animals, but this is not common

The caterpillars of the oak processionary moth and their nests are usually found on oak trees. But this moth is very rare in Ireland.

Information:

Report any suspected sighting of this insect to the Horticulture and Plant Health Division of the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine.

Email plantandpests@agriculture.gov.ie or phone 01 505 8885.

When to speak to your GP

Non-urgent advice: Speak to your GP if:

  • you were stung more than once
  • your symptoms do not get better within a few days or are getting worse
  • you were stung or bitten in your mouth or throat, or near your eyes
  • an area that is 10cm or more around the bite becomes swollen
  • you have symptoms of a wound infection, such as pus, pain, swelling or redness
  • you have symptoms of a widespread infection, such as a fever, swollen glands and other flu-like symptoms

Emergency action required: Call 999, 112 or go to your nearest emergency department (ED) if

you've a had a serious allergic reaction to an insect bite or sting before or you have symptoms of a serious allergic reaction, such as:

  • wheezing or difficulty breathing
  • a swollen face, mouth, lips, tongue or throat
  • eye pain or conjunctivitis
  • nausea or vomiting
  • a fast heart rate
  • dizziness or feeling faint
  • difficulty swallowing
  • loss of consciousness
  • a skin rash that may include itchy, red, swollen, blistered or peeling skin


Content supplied by the NHS and adapted for Ireland by the HSE

Page last reviewed: 25 March 2021
Next review due: 25 March 2024

This project has received funding from the Government of Ireland’s Sláintecare Integration Fund 2019 under Grant Agreement Number 123.