Treatment - Insect bites and stings

Most insect bites will improve within a few hours or days and can be treated at home.

First aid for insect bites and stings

To treat an insect bite or sting:

  • remove the sting, tick or hairs if still in the skin
  • wash the affected area with soap and water
  • apply a cold compress, such as a cloth cooled with cold water or an ice pack, to any swelling for at least 10 minutes
  • raise or elevate the affected area – this can help reduce swelling
  • avoid scratching the area or bursting any blisters, to reduce the risk of infection
  • avoid traditional home remedies such as vinegar and bicarbonate of soda. They're unlikely to help.

The pain, swelling and itchiness can sometimes last a few days.

Removing a sting

If you've been stung and the sting has been left in your skin, you should remove it as soon as possible. This will prevent more venom being released.

Scrape it out sideways using something with a hard edge or your fingernails.

Don't pinch the sting with your fingers or tweezers. This may spread the venom.

Removing a tick

If you've been bitten by a tick and it's still attached to your skin, remove it as soon as possible. This will reduce your risk of picking up illnesses such as Lyme disease.

To remove a tick:

  • use a pair of tweezers that won't squash the tick, or a tick- removal tool. These are available from pet shops or vets
  • grip the tick as close to the skin as possible to ensure the tick's mouth isn't left in the skin
  • pull steadily away from the skin without crushing the tick
  • wash your skin with water and soap afterwards. Apply an antiseptic cream to the skin around the bite

If you use a tick-removal tool, follow the manufacturer's instructions.

Don't use a lit cigarette end, a match head or substances such as alcohol or petroleum jelly to force the tick out.

Relieving the symptoms of an insect bite or sting

If you have troublesome symptoms after an insect bite or sting, the following treatments may help:

  • for pain or discomfort, take over-the-counter painkillers such as paracetamol or ibuprofen
  • for itching, ask your pharmacist about over-the-counter treatments. These include crotamiton or hydrocortisone cream and antihistamine tablets.
  • for swelling, try regularly applying a cold compress or ice pack to the affected area. Ask your pharmacist about treatments such as antihistamine tablets

See your GP if these treatments don't help. They may prescribe stronger medicines such as steroid tablets.

Important

Do not give aspirin to children under 16 years of age.

Non-urgent advice: Contact your GP for advice if:

  • you're worried about a bite or sting
  • your symptoms don't start to improve within a few days, or are getting worse
  • you've been stung or bitten in your mouth or throat, or near your eyes
  • a large area, around 10cm or more, around the bite becomes red and swollen. Your GP may refer you to an allergy clinic for further tests or treatment
  • you have symptoms of a wound infection, such as pus or increasing pain, swelling or redness
  • you have symptoms of a more widespread infection. This could be a fever, swollen glands and other flu-like symptoms

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

you have symptoms of a severe reaction, such as:

  • wheezing or difficulty breathing
  • a swollen face, mouth or throat
  • nausea or vomiting
  • a fast heart rate
  • dizziness or feeling faint
  • difficulty swallowing
  • loss of consciousness

Emergency treatment in hospital is needed in these cases.


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

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

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

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