Insect bites and stings

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First Aid for Bites & Stings

Insect bites and stings

Insect stings

A sting is when a insect puncture your skin and leave behind saliva, faeces (poo), venom and sometime even its ‘sting’, with or without venom.

Common symptoms of a sting include:

  • Redness around the affected area and a intense burned feeling
  • Swelling and pain will be experienced around the sting on the skin but generally eases after an hour or so
  • Allergic reactions can occur with swelling and pain being more severe, blisters can form and a larger part of the body can be affected – for example the whole leg or arm become swollen

It takes two days (48 hours) for a sting to clear up and can still be tender for a few days after.

Insect bites

An insect bite is when a insect leaves a puncture wound in the skin and the type of reaction depends on the type of insect that bites you. It normally clears up within a day or two and don’t need any further treatment

Common symptoms of a bite include:

  • Skin irritation, inflammation or swelling around the bite
  • You might also notice a bump or blister around the bite mark

To get advice on your symptoms on when to seek medical attention you can have a look at the healthdirect’s Symptom Checker

Bee stings, wasp stings and ant stings

The most common triggers of anaphylaxis is caused after a bee, wasp or when a Australian Jack Jumper ant bites you.

Wasps are drawn to food and sugary drinks and are more aggressive than bees. You should always check open food or drink containers before you eat or drink from them.

If you are stung by a bee take the following steps:

Bee stings should not be removed with tweezers as the bees leave a sac of venom behind that will release more venom from the sac when tweezed.

If a stinger have been left behind in the skin, gently try to remove the sting as soon as possible to reduce the amount of venom injected. This can be done by scraping the sting carefully from the side with a firm object, such as a finger nail or credit card, and flick it out.

Wash the affected area with soap and water and dry the area gently after the sting has been removed.

Wasps and bull ants hardly ever leave their stings in the skin and if itching, you can use a cold pack or soothing cream to relieve minor reactions. You would also need to take antihistamines orally for the itching and if persisting you would need to see a doctor and can be given cortisone tablets to settle the swelling.

Tick bites

  • Do NOT forcibly remove a tick as this might cause a mild allergic reaction with local swelling at the area of the bite, to a severe allergic reaction causing anaphylaxis. Do not disturb the tick as this may cause the tick to inject more allergen-containing saliva.
  • You should rather freeze the tick by using a product that freeze, kill and allow the tick to drop off or leave the tick in place and seek medical assistance.
  • Visit the Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy website for more information on tick allergies.
  • To protect yourself from ticks when in the bushes, wear light coloured clothing, tuck your trousers into your socks and spray your skin, shoes and socks with an insect repellent containing diethyltoluamide (DEET) or picaridin. Also check your body afterwards by paying attention to the the back of the head and neck, groin, armpits and back of the knees, there can be more than 1 tick.
  • Remove a tick as soon as possible if you are not allergic by using sprays containing ether, like Wart-Off Freeze® or Elastoplast Cold Spray® .


  • Do not grasp the tick by the body nor apply methylated spirits or fingernail polish and do not use a lighted match or cigarette to burn the tick.
  • Apply a antiseptic cream to the bite once the tick is out, as the bite can slightly itch for several weeks afterwards.
  • You might have signs of infections like redness, pain, clear liquid coming from the wound, and a high temperature over 38°C if the tick is not fully removed.
  • If you not feeling good or experience muscle weakness or paralysis you might have developed a reaction and need to see a doctor.

Mosquito bites

  • Allergic reactions are rare with mosquitoes but can cause a rash, flu-like symptoms such as fever, chills, headaches, swelling, stiffness and pain from the joint and muscles, fatigue and depression.
  • Mosquito bites cause itchy bites but if you not feeling well you should see a doctor.
  • Some types of mosquitoes can spread serious diseases.
  • Manage mosquito bites with cold packs for pain and swelling and by washing the area with soap and water to apply an antiseptic.
  • To prevent mosquito bites you must cover your skin and stay inside in the early morning or at dusk. Externally you can use insect repellent to prevent bites.
  • On the Queensland Health website you would be able to find information on avoiding mosquito bites.

Scorpion and centipede stings

If stung by a scorpion or a centipede the following steps can be taken:

  • Apply an ice pack to the sting or bite site and use a painkiller
  • To help prevent secondary infection you must clean the wound with antiseptic or wash with soap and water

Caterpillar stings

The following steps should be taken if stung by a caterpillar:

  • Remove the visible caterpillar hairs with tweezers and apply adhesive tape to remove the finer caterpillar hairs of the area.
  • The area should not be scratch or rubbed as this will cause the hairs to penetrate deeper into the skin


Itching is a irritation that can be very frustrating and uncomfortable and makes a person want to scratch the irritated area. Itching can occur on any body part or even affect the whole body when there is an allergic reaction.

Spots or rashes may cause itchiness and when scratched the itch might become more persistent (itchier) and you get into a cycle of itching and scratching. If the skin is broken from the scratching it can be painful and can lead to an infection. See your doctor if the itching persists for more than 48 hours.

The following steps should be taken to relieve itching:

  • Try not to scratch to prevent breaking the skin and keep your nails short
  • It may help to take a cool bath or shower and afterwards use a clean towel to gently pat yourself dry.
  • Avoid perfumed skin care products, fabrics that irritate your skin like wool and try wearing loose cotton clothing that helps not to overheat and making the itch worse.
  • Ice packs can bring relieve to itching but should not be placed directly against the skin (Use frozen peas wrapped in a clean cloth as a ice pack)
  •  You can also use medicines to ease the symptoms of itching and pain


If some people gets bitten or stung by an insect their body can react to severe allergic reactions within minutes. This can lead to anaphylaxis that is serious and even fatal in some cases.

Symptoms of anaphylaxis includes:

  • You may experience difficulty talking and breathing due to swelling and tightness in the throat and or a swollen tongue.
  • Persistent dizziness or you might even collapse
  • Young children might look pale and floppy
  • wheeze or persistent cough
  • abdominal pain or vomiting

Call triple zero (000) for an ambulance. Assistance might be needed to follow their ‘personal action plan’ to manage a known severe allergy. This includes adrenaline to the person via an adrenaline (epinephrine) autoinjector (such as EpiPen).

The Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy recommends using adrenaline for best results to allergic reactions. Visit the Choosing Wisely Australia website for more information.

The St John Ambulance Australia first aid fact sheet can be found on their website for bites and stings. If you would like to set up a personal action plan or want more information on anaphylaxis, go to

People with diagnosed allergies should avoid all triggers and confirmed allergens and have a readily accessible anaphylaxis action plan and medical alert device. In case you need help following your anaphylaxis action plan, ensure your family, friends and employer or work colleagues knows.