Symptoms - Insect bites and stings

An insect bite or sting often causes a small, red lump on the skin, which may be painful and itchy.

Many bites will clear up within a few hours or days and can be treated at home.

It can be difficult to identify what you were bitten or stung by if you didn't see it happen. But don't worry if you're not sure. The treatment for most bites and stings is similar.

Wasp stings

wasp or hornet sting on a finger

A wasp sting causes a sudden, sharp pain at first. A swollen red mark may then form on your skin. This can last a few hours and may be painful and itchy.

Sometimes a larger area around the sting can be painful, red and swollen for up to a week. This is a minor allergic reaction that isn't usually anything to worry about.

Some people may experience a serious allergic reaction.

Bee stings

Close up of a bee sting on white skin

A bee sting feels like a wasp sting, but the sting often stays in the wound.

The sting can cause pain, redness and swelling for a few hours. As with wasp stings, some people may have a mild allergic reaction that lasts up to a week.

Serious allergic reactions can also occasionally occur.

Emergency action required: Dial 999 or 112 for an ambulance immediately if

you have symptoms of a serious allergic reaction:

  • breathing difficulties
  • dizziness
  • swollen face or mouth

Mosquito bites

Close up of mosquito bites on white skin

Bites from mosquitoes often cause small red lumps on your skin. These are usually very itchy. Some people may also develop fluid-filled blisters.

Mosquitoes don't cause major harm in Ireland. But in some parts of the world, they can spread serious illnesses such as malaria.

After a mosquito bite abroad, get medical help right away if you develop worrying symptoms.

These can include:

  • chills
  • headaches
  • vomiting

Tick bites

Close up of a tick on white skin

Tick bites are not usually painful. You may not realise you've been bitten straight away.

Symptoms of a tick bite can include:

  • a small red lump on the skin
  • swelling
  • itchiness
  • blistering
  • bruising

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

Remove ticks as soon as possible

It is important to be aware of ticks and to remove them as soon as possible. Lyme disease can be prevented if infected ticks are removed quickly.

See your GP if you develop any symptoms of Lyme disease. This could be a fever or a rash that looks like a 'bull's-eye' on a dart board.

Horsefly bites

Close up of a horsefly on white skin and a horsefly bite on the ankle

A bite from a horsefly can be very painful. The bitten area of skin is usually red and raised.

You may also experience:

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

Horsefly bites can take a while to heal and can become infected. See your GP if you have symptoms of an infection. Symptoms can include pus or increasing pain, redness and swelling.

Midge or gnat bites

Close up of midge bites on white skin

Midge and gnat bites often look like mosquito bites.

They usually cause small, red lumps that can be painful and very itchy. They can sometimes swell up.

Some people may also develop fluid-filled blisters.

Bedbug bites

Close up of bed bugs on white skin and bedbug bites on the legs

Bedbug bites usually occur on the face, neck, hands or arms. They're typically found in straight lines across the skin.

The bites aren't usually painful. If you've not been bitten by bedbugs before, you may not have any symptoms.

If you have been bitten before, you may develop itchy red bumps that can last for several days.

Mite bites

Close up of mite bites on white skin

Mite bites cause very itchy red lumps to develop on the skin. They can sometimes 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.

Flea bites

Close up of flea bites on white skin

Flea bites can cause small, itchy red lumps that are sometimes grouped in lines or clusters. Blisters may also develop.

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

Spider bites

Close up of a false widow spider

Bites from spiders in Ireland are uncommon. 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 and dizziness. Bites can become infected, or cause a severe allergic reaction in rare cases. Get medical help immediately if you have any severe or worrying symptoms after a spider bite.

Ant stings and bites

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

Ant bites and stings are generally harmless. Although you'll probably feel a nip and a pale pink mark may develop on your skin.

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

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.