First aid expert reveals her ultimate guide to common bites and stings

Was it a wasp, mosquito, tick, chigger or flea? First aid expert reveals her ultimate guide to identifying common bites and stings

  • As insects thrive in the warm summer months more people are bitten and stung
  • Bites and stings may look the same to the untrained eye but can be told apart
  • First aid expert Emma Hammett reveals how to treat different insect bites

Warm summer weather and spending more time outside means more of us will be getting bitten by pesky insects.

And although any itchy bite is annoying it can be hard to know what you’ve been bitten or stung by and when it is something to worry about.

Wasp or bee stings, for example, are rarely cause for concern unless someone is allergic, but the bite of a tick could transmit Lyme disease which can lead to paralysis or life-threatening meningitis.

To help people deal with summer stings, first aid expert Emma Hammett has revealed her ultimate guide to identifying and dealing with insect attacks.

Ms Hammett, a qualified nurse and founder of First Aid for Life, explains what sort of common bites people can expect and how to relieve the symptoms and recover faster. 

Rule number one, says first aid expert Emma Hammett, is never scratch a bite, because it makes it more likely to become infected and get worse

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First point – no matter how tempting it is, please don’t scratch the bite. 

Once the skin has been broken the bite is far more likely to become infected.

The first sign your bite is becoming infected is likely to be that it gets redder, hot and more itchy. If this is the case get it seen by a health professional as soon as possible.

If the redness tracks away from the bite and spreads across the skin, this could be a sign of cellulitis, which is serious and you should get medical treatment quickly.

Bee and wasp stings

Bees and wasps are not generally aggressive and don’t look to sting people, however it is extremely common for people to accidentally step on them in bare feet, or for them to fly into us and then sting.

Bees and wasps have stingers which inject venom into a person’s skin – bees stingers often come off during an attack whereas wasps can pull theirs out 

When bees or wasps sting a person, they inject venom through their stinger into the skin of the victim. 

Wasps, hornets and other stinging insects have stingers without barbs that they retract when they sting, so these insects can sting people multiple times. 

Bees have a barbed stinger that they leave in the victim’s skin along with the venom sack.

If someone is stung by a bee and the sting remains in the skin, quickly flick it out using your thumb nail or a credit card.  

Try not to squeeze the sting as this can increase the amount of allergen entering the body and therefore increase any possible allergic reaction. 

The venom sac can take 2-3 minutes to release the venom and so removing the sac promptly can prevent further venom increasing the reaction.

Bee stings usually stay in the skin and cause surrounding skin to turn red in reaction

Most people only experience a localised reaction to bee stings where the localised area around the skin is inflamed, red and painful.

About three per cent of people stung by bees and wasps have an allergic reaction to the sting, and up to 0.8 per cent of bee sting victims experience the severe and life-threatening allergic reaction known as anaphylaxis.

Old wives’ tales suggest neutralising stings with vinegar or bicarbonate of soda is an effective remedy for wasp and bee stings. 

Wasp sting venom is more alkaline and the remedy is neutralising the sting with vinegar to reduce the pain. 

Bee sting venom is predominantly formic acidic and so they advise this should be neutralised with bicarbonate of soda. 

Neither of these remedies have any scientific backing and it is more likely to be the power of suggestion than any real benefit that might make people feel better.

Tick bites (ticks carry Lyme disease) 

Ticks are tiny creatures that live in woodland and grassy areas, where they are particularly prevalent if there are deer and other wildlife. 

They are blood sucking and bite into the skin to feed on blood. 

Initially they are extremely small, but swell as they eat, eventually becoming pea sized and therefore easier to spot and remove.

Ticks prefer not to leave the body and burrow into the skin, where they swell up as they drink blood. They must be carefully removed to avoid the head getting stuck in and tearing off

Ticks can carry Lyme disease, which can be serious and lead to paralysis or meningitis, and they should ideally be removed by a health professional.

If this is not possible, they should be very carefully removed with tweezers or ideally with a proper tick remover, gently pulling without twisting in any way. 

When using a tick remover, you should insert under the tick and rotate 360 degrees. 

It is possible for the tick to be only half removed, leaving its mouth in the skin and this can lead to infection. Never burn the tick off or try and use chemicals to kill it.

Cover up with long trousers and socks when walking in woodland and long grass and always check yourself, your clothes and your dog for ticks on your return. 


Lyme disease is a serious illness in humans, characterised by flu-like symptoms, lethargy and aches and pains. 

People who get Lyme disease from a tick bit often develop a telltale rash which looks like a bulls-eye target

Some 50 per cent of people with Lyme disease develop a classic bulls eye type rash, which can appear on any part of the body and not necessarily where they were bitten. 

If you are worried you might have contracted Lyme disease, visit your doctor urgently. 

If Lyme Disease is diagnosed and treated quickly it is possible to make a full recovery, however it can cause paralysis, arthritis, meningitis and severe long-term problems.


Chiggers are horrible little mites that are commonly found on meadows, golf courses, woodlands, parks and in grassland around lakes and rivers.

They are members if the Trombiculidae family and are tiny mite-like spiders. They are often known as berry bugs, red bugs or harvest mites.

Symptoms of chigger bites include intense itching, and flat or raised red bumps on the skin that sometimes appear blistered.

When the chigger bites, it inserts its feeding structures and mouth parts into the skin 

Chiggers – a type of mite – are tiny and bite by injecting an enzyme to harden the skin then inserting a feeding tube

Antihistamines and topical anti-bite and sting relief creams can relive the bites. My children also love the click-it itch relief clickers and swear they work brilliantly.

Chiggers most commonly bite areas of thinned skin such as wrinkles and warm folds of skin such as the crotch and groin areas, armpits, and behind the knees. 

The ankles and calves are also common sites for chigger bites.

When the chigger bites, it inserts its feeding structures and mouth parts into the skin. 

They inject enzymes into the host skin that destroy the tissue around the bite and it is these that frequently provoke reactions. 

The area around the bite then hardens, and they insert a feeding tube, called a sylostome, further into the bite area. 

If chiggers are not disturbed, they can feed on the skin through this structure for a few days if they are not disturbed.

Mosquito bites 

Most of us are familiar with the tell-tale buzz of the mosquito and well aware of the look of these pesky vampires. 

We do get them in the UK and our increasingly warm summers are leading to a surge in numbers.

Mosquitoes are known for carrying dangerous diseases, and they come out in the UK during the warmer summer months

Mosquitoes are flies that feed on human blood; they are also carriers of malaria, dengue fever, Japanese encephalitis and many more extremely serious diseases.

Mosquitoes love stagnant water and breed prolifically when the conditions are right. 

Only female mosquitoes bite humans as females need blood in their diet to reproduce. 

Male mosquitoes have feathery antennae that help them sense the presence of female mosquitoes – males only live for about a week. Females have less bushy antennae and can live for a few months.

Female mosquitoes have long, tubular mouthparts that they use to pierce your skin and feed on your blood. 

When they bite you, they inject saliva into your body while suctioning your blood. 

Mosquito saliva contains proteins that most people react to causing an inflamed red and itchy bump. 

They sniff their victims out and choose them based on their scent. Many mosquito repellents try to change our smell to make us less appetising to the mosquitoes. 

You can get patches and sprays and people also say eating large amounts of Marmite can make you less appealing to the bugs.

Female mosquitoes bite humans and other mammals because they need blood in their diet to be able to reproduce

Ideally use a high quality, insect repellent and cover up with loose fitting, long sleeved clothes and long trousers. 

Some mosquitoes are around more in the daytime, some at dawn and dusk. DEET-based insect repellents are widely seen as the most effective.

Mosquito bites should be washed with soap and warm water. 

Antihistamine tablets and topical creams, anti-itch creams and applying an ice pack to the bites should provide relief from itching. Avoid scratching the bites.

It is rare for anyone to have a severe allergic or anaphylactic reaction to a mosquito bite. 

Therefore, if you develop aching, headaches, or fever after getting bitten, contact your doctor. These are more likely to be symptoms of a mosquito-borne disease.


Fleas are minute, irritating insects, that like to feed on our blood and that of our pets. They are a real nuisance and their bites are itchy and sometimes painful. 

Getting rid of fleas is hard and often requires professional pest control treatment for total eradication. 

Pet owners are most at risk of flea infestations, but it is possible to have fleas in your home without pets.

Flea bites are distinctive small, red bumps with a red ‘halo’ around the bite centre. Bites usually occur in groups of three or four, or in a straight line. 

Fleas are attracted to warm and moist areas of the body, and produce incredibly itchy bites which are likely to become infected if scratched, Ms Hammett says

Fleas are best known for living on animals like dogs and cats but they are happy to bite people, too, and can be difficult to get rid of

Fleas are attracted to warm moist areas such as the waist, armpits, breasts, groin, or in the folds of the elbows and knees, but they also nibble the easy to reach areas such as ankles and calves.

Flea bites are incredibly itchy, the skin around each bite often becomes sore or painful and you might develop a rash or hives near the site of a bite. 

Scratching the bites is very likely to lead to infection.


Anyone can react to a sting – it is most commonly a local reaction, just affecting the bite or sting itself. 

If the person who has been stung experiences a local reaction, apply a wrapped ice pack to the affected area and this will help to reduce the swelling and can reduce pain as well. 

Antihistamines will also help reduce the reaction and will treat itching and swelling, take paracetamol or ibuprofen to reduce pain.

If the casualty shows any signs of a systemic reaction or of anaphylactic shock, call an ambulance immediately and use their Adrenaline Auto-injector if they have been prescribed one. 

Remain calm, reassure them and position them appropriately:

If they are struggling to breathe, they should be encouraged to sit in an upright position, putting something under their knees to help increase their circulation can be helpful – into the lazy W position.

If they are not having trouble breathing, but are feeling weak, dizzy, sick and thirsty – and showing signs of shock should lie down with their legs raised to help increase the circulation to their vital organs. 

They should stay lying down even if they appear to recover, as sitting or standing them up could cause a further drop in their blood pressure. 

Encourage them to turn their head to one side if they are likely to vomit. They should be covered to keep them warm and kept in this position until the paramedics arrive. 

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