Insect bites can itch and hurt, but they are usually harmless and disappear after a few days. Here we detail the different reactions to insect bites – from mosquitoes, gnats and horse-flies, to bees, wasps and bumblebees.
As well as advising you on causes and symptoms, Appotek can help by connecting you with a doctor for individual consultation. Just remember that in severe cases such as anaphylaxis, you will need to call the emergency room.
Mosquitoes, gnats and horse-flies
Mosquitoes suck blood through their proboscis. It doesn’t hurt and most only notice they have been bitten once itching starts.
Gnats (a small type of mosquito) bite off a small part of the skin to access blood. This can hurt – and is often more painful than a mosquito bite. The skin around the bite becomes red and swollen.
Horse-fly (a type of fly) that is significantly larger than gnats, also cuts off part of the skin. A horse-fly bite is very painful. The skin also becomes more swollen than with mosquito bites, and sometimes bruising occurs.
Bees, wasps and bumblebees
Bee and wasp stings are often very painful at first. Shortly after the skin becomes swollen and red and can burn and itch. Wasps stings usually produce strong reactions in the skin, with heat, swelling, and redness over a large area. Bumblebee stings are often lighter.
Some have allergies to wasp stings. Hypersensitivity can occur even if you have previously been stung without a major reaction.
Severe hypersensitivity can lead to a so-called “anaphylactic” reaction. This can come on quickly and needs urgent care.
Signs of an anaphylactic reaction are:
- abdominal pain
- problems with breathing (asphyxia)
- swelling of the skin
- dizziness with cold sweating and rapid pulse.
When mosquitoes, gnats and horse-flies suck blood, they simultaneously inject their saliva into the skin to prevent the blood from coagulating. The reason the bites itch and swell is because the body’s immune system reacts to the insect saliva. It is a natural reaction and does not depend on allergy or hypersensitivity.
However some are hypersensitive, for example to mosquito bites, and get severe itching and larger swelling.
Bees, wasps and bumblebees
Bees, wasps and bumblebees only sting when they feel frightened. Therefore, you can avoid getting bitten by staying calm and not scaring them. Wasps sting much more often than bees and bumblebees. Basically, bees feed off the nectar of flowers and are not interested in our food. Wasps, on the other hand, eat what we eat and do their best to access our food. In addition to conflicts around dining tables and ice cream parlors, wasps are also more likely to sting. They have no barbs on their sting and can sting several times, whereas a bee has barbs on its sting and can only sting once, after which it dies. In bumblebees, only the females have a sting and they are very rare. When a bumblebee stings it rarely hurts, but feels almost like a burn. Bee and wasp stings hurt because their sting is attached to a poison bladder and the venom inside is very painful.
Prevention and Protection
You can try to avoid mosquito bites by:
- Wearing bright clothes
- Using mosquito nets at night
- Covering as much of the skin as possible with clothes
- Using mosquito repellent (some mosquito repellent should not be used by children, ask in pharmacies).
Stings from bees, wasps and bumblebees
There are no remedies that deter wasps from biting. Only avoid them.
If you see a sting left in the skin after a bite, you can try to pull it out with tweezers. Then put something cold on the bite or flush it in cold water to relieve the pain.
Itching and pain relief in the case of insect bites
There are non-prescription drugs that help with bite pain and itching. They are alcohol, alcohol gel, cold balsam, hydrocortisone (remember not to use hydrocortisone for children under two years without a doctor’s recommendation) and local anesthetic ointments. Medicines containing antihistamines can also help reduce the reaction. You will find them at pharmacies.
Do not scratch the bite to avoid local skin infections. If a bite becomes red, swollen and painful, it is a sign of bacterial infection.
When to consult a doctor
If you have had a severe allergic reaction requiring emergency medical care (anaphylaxis) after bee or wasp stings, consult your doctor. Sometimes medicines are given for you to carry in the event of a future allergic reaction, like an EpiPen (adrenaline auto-injector).
You should also consult a doctor if:
- You have had a wasp or bee sting in the mouth or near the eye
- You have a skin infection which does not pass
- You have been stung several times and your skin is very swollen and itchy
- You feel unwell, dizzy and find it difficult to breathe right after being bitten by a wasp or a bee
- You feel worse after a few days
- You are allergic to wasp or bee stings.
How APPOTEK can help
- Consulting a doctor
- Individual assessment and medicine if needed