It’s picnic season and most Irish people will be heading outdoors as soon as the sun breaks through the clouds. One of the downfalls, however, is the risk of being bitten or stung as you sip your Pimms al fresco. Most insect bites and stings cause small reactions that are confined to the area of the bite (localised reactions). These can usually be treated at home. Only in case of a severe reaction do you need medical intervention.
17 best ways to cope with insect bites and stings.
1 PROTECT YOURSELF: Avoiding being bitten or stung in the first place is your best bet. Wearing shoes and covering up while outdoors should be your first line of attack. Mosquitoes are attracted to dark colours so wear something light. Remember that mosquitoes like strong fragrances, perfumes and scented shampoos so avoid these if you’re worried about being bitten. If you’re having a picnic, be careful when drinking out of opened drink bottles or cans; being stung inside the mouth is particularly nasty. Mosquito repellent with DEET as the active ingredient is the most effective and best-studied repellent against mosquitoes. They also provide protection against bites from fleas, biting flies and other small flying insects. DEET is also safe and is been used for more than forty years worldwide and very few cases have been reported for toxic reactions.
2 IF YOU’VE BEEN STUNG BY A BEE: As quickly as you can, remove the bee’s sting and venom sac, if these have been left in your skin. Don’t pinch the sting with your fingers or with tweezers as this can spread the poison further and may puncture the venom sac. Instead, scrape it out with your nails or with a hard edge such as a bank card or blunt knife.
3 IF YOU’VE BEEN STUNG BY A WASP OR HORNET: Unlike bees, wasps and hornets don't usually leave their sting behind. This means there is nothing to remove but also that you could be stung again. Walk away calmly, without waving your arms around to avoid being stung again.
4 IF YOU’VE BEEN BITTEN BY A TICK: Being bitten by a tick carries the risk of catching an infection such as Lyme disease. It’s therefore important to remove the tick as quickly you can. Key to doing this successfully is making sure you get rid of the insect’s mouthparts, which will be embedded in the skin. To do this, use a pair of fine-tipped tweezers or a tick removal tool, wear gloves or put a tissue over your fingers to avoid touching the tick and pull gently but firmly, straight up, until all of the tick's mouthparts have been removed.
5 DON’T SCRATCH MOSQUITO BITES (OR ANY BITES): Mosquito bites can be fiendishly itchy but you should avoid scratching them at all costs. Breaking the skin with vigorous scratching increases your chances of getting an infection to the area. You’ll also add to the inflammation, making the bite even itchier and increasing any pain. If children get bitten, make sure their fingernails are short and clean; telling them not to scratch may be futile.
6 WASH THE AREA: This is basic but important. After removing the sting of a bee, wash the area with soap and water and keep as clean as possible for the next few days. If the skin is broken around a mosquito bite, it’s also important to keep washing.
7 PLACE A COLD COMPRESS ON THE AREA: Most types of bite or sting benefit from a cold compress to numb the area. This helps with itching and pain and reduces inflammation. The easiest method is simply with a cold, wet flannel or cloth. If the bite or sting is painful or swollen, wrap an ice pack or bag of frozen peas in a towel and place it on the area.
8 TAKE SOME PAINKILLERS: Painful or swollen bites and strings may be helped with painkillers, such as paracetamol or ibuprofen.
9 APPLY A TOPICAL MEDICATION: Locally applied sprays or creams that contain an anaesthetic, antihistamine or mild hydrocortisone (1%) can prevent itching and swelling.
10 TAKE AN ANTIHISTAMINE: If your bite or sting is seriously swollen or inflamed, an antihistamine tablet (available on prescription or from the chemist) could help. The reaction in your skin occurs when the body releases histamine to combat the bite. Antihistamines block the action of histamine which relieves itching. Oral antihistamines are more effective for multiple bites and stings which would be hard to treat by applying topical preparations all over the body.
11 LEAVE BLISTERS ALONE: In themselves, blisters are nothing to worry about and are the body’s way of healing itself. Some people have an allergic reaction to the venom in a sting and will experience localised swelling which may break out in blisters. Be careful not to burst these as a more serious infection could result.
12 TREAT WITH APPLE CIDER VINEGAR: The acidity of vinegar can help with itching. Apple cider vinegar is your best bet. Dilute in some warm water and apply to your bites.
13 TRY SOME TEA TREE OIL: Some people swear by tea tree oil as an antidote to insect bites and stings. Tea tree has anti-inflammatory properties which may help with the itching and swelling. Meanwhile, the oil’s antibacterial powers will help reduce the likelihood of an infection.
14 ALOE VERA: Aloe vera is a good all-rounder if you’re into natural remedies and you should keep a bottle handy during the summer in case of sunburn. However, aloe is also good for insect bites. Cool it in the fridge then slap it on; the plant has antiseptic properties and soothes the skin.
15 BAKING SODA: Baking soda is another home remedy worth trying if you’ve been bitten by an insect. Mix the powder into a paste with some water and apply; its alkalising properties can help ease inflammation and itching.
16 SPOT AN ALLERGIC REACTION: In rare cases, a sting can lead to a generalised (systemic) allergic reaction, which can be extremely serious. Know how to spot it. Symptoms include: swelling of the face, lips, tongue, throat, and upper airway; itching and a blotchy rash anywhere on the body; abdominal cramps; nausea; increased pulse rate; feelings of faintness; difficulty breathing. Call an ambulance. A severe generalised allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) is a medical emergency.
17 SEE YOUR GP: If your bite or sting becomes infected (swollen, filled with pus and tender to touch) and you develop flu-like symptoms such as fever and swollen glands, see your GP. In this instance, your doctor will probably prescribe oral antibiotics.