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Treatment - Insect bites and stings

You can ease symptoms of most insect bites and stings at home.

Removing stingers, ticks or caterpillar hairs

The first thing you need to do is remove the stinger, tick or oak processionary moth caterpillar hairs if they are left in or on your skin.

How to remove a stinger
  1. Scrape the stinger sideways with your fingernail or something with a hard edge, such as a bank card.
  2. Wash the affected area with soap and water.

Do not pinch the stinger with your fingers or tweezers. You could squeeze the venom out of it.

How to remove a tick

Remove a tick as soon as possible to help prevent getting Lyme disease.

  1. Grip the tick as close to your skin as possible using tweezers that won't crush it, or a tick-removal tool.
  2. Slowly pull the tick away from your skin, taking care not to crush the tick or leave its mouth in your skin.
  3. Wash your skin with water and soap.
  4. Apply an antiseptic cream to the skin around the bite.
Illustration of a fine-tipped tweezer gripping a tick at its mouth and slowly pulling upwards.
How to remove a tick.

Do not use a lit cigarette end, a match head or things like alcohol or petroleum jelly to force the tick out.

How to remove caterpillar hairs
  1. Gently remove the caterpillar using tweezers or a pen. Try not to disturb it or it will release more hairs.
  2. Rinse your skin with running water and allow it to air dry.
  3. Use sticky tape to pick up any remaining hairs on your skin.
  4. Take off any jewellery in case your skin becomes swollen.
  5. Take off and wash your clothes at a high temperature.

Easing your symptoms

If there's nothing on or in your skin, or you've removed it, wash the affected area with soap and water. This will help lower the chance of infection.

Ask your pharmacist about medicines that can help ease the symptoms of a bite or sting, such as:

  • antihistamines that you put on your skin or that you swallow - these are commonly used, but do not always work well
  • steroid creams
  • painkillers

The bite or sting should get better in a few hours or days.

There are some things you can do to ease your symptoms.

Do

  • put a cold compress on the bite or sting for at least 20 minutes if it's swollen

  • keep the area raised to reduce swelling

  • use antihistamines or a hydrocortisone cream to reduce itching and swelling

Don't

  • do not scratch the bite or sting or burst any blisters - it could get infected

  • do not use home remedies such as bicarbonate of soda and vinegar to treat the bite or sting

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
  • you get a skin rash that may include itchy, red, swollen, blistered or peeling skin

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


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.