How to Deal With Insect Bites

Posted on Posted in Bushcraft & Survival, First Aid, Staying Safe

Here in the UK, we don’t exactly have to deal with many deadly creatures possibly lurking in every corner. So it’s easy to get complacent about insect bites. After all, they’re just an annoyance, causing a bit of redness and some maddening itches aren’t they? Well, often that is simply the case, but it is common for insect bites to either cause allergic reactions, develop infections or act as a gateway for other nasty things to enter our bodies and make us properly ill. 

If you think about the different critters that can bite or sting us, then we actually have a lot of company to be aware of any time we go on an adventure outside. UK insects that can inflict a painful sting include wasps, hornets and bees, several different types of ants and caterpillars. Among the bloodthirsty biting insects are midges and gnats, various flies which include, but are not limited to; blackflies, sand flies, stable flies, deer flies and horseflies through to mosquitoes, ticks, spiders and even leeches. 

While most of our native insects are not generally dangerous to humans, ticks are commonly known to transmit the unpleasant and serious illness known as Lyme Disease. Certain flies have very unsavoury diets and carry a higher risk of passing on bacterial infections. Another risk is that any insect bite or sting could cause a severe allergic reaction, even if you have never experienced one before. 

How to Prevent Insect Bites

As always, be prepared! Before undertaking any expedition, swat up on your bugs; what they look like, their habitats and their habits. Which ones are likely to be hanging around in the areas you are planning on going and could they carry any additional risks of disease?

  • Keep skin covered with long sleeves and trouser legs.
  • Wear sturdy shoes.
  • Wearing light coloured fabrics can make it easier to see ticks.
  • Take a head net for mosquito or midge dense areas.
  • Regularly and liberally apply a good insect repellent on exposed skin.
  • Avoid wearing perfumes or heavily fragranced products as this may attract insects.
  • Where possible, avoid areas of long grass, dense plant growth and stagnant water.
  • Regularly check yourself all over, especially when changing clothes and at the end of the day. Remember that ticks can get into hard-to-see places, like hair, armpits and belly-buttons.

Your first aid kit should include:

  • Tweezers for pulling out ticks.
  • A sterile solution or wipes for cleaning the affected area.
  • Antiseptic cream.
  • Cold compress pack for swellings.
  • Antihistamine tablets to reduce reactions. 

How to Treat Insect Bites

Treatment may vary depending on the type of bite or sting, although of course, you might not see the creature responsible and may never know what caused the problem. It is advisable to clean all insect bites and stings thoroughly, no matter how small or how many of them there are, as all have the potential to become infected or cause an allergic reaction. 

Remove: If you can see a tick, sting or caterpillar hairs still attached to your skin, then remove them first of all. Ticks bury their heads into your skin and you want to remove the whole tick carefully. Do not try to burn, poison or squeeze it as this may result in bits being left behind. Use fine tweezers, gripping close to your skin and gently pull it away. Do not use tweezers for removing stings or hairs as they could cause more venom or irritants to be released into your skin. Use a hard edge like a fingernail to scrape it off sideways.

Antihistamine: Taking an antihistamine tablet will help to prevent or reduce an allergic reaction.

Clean: Once the bite or sting is clear, thoroughly clean it with a sterile solution, then apply antiseptic cream around the area. 

Raise: Elevate the affected area to help stop swelling from developing.

Cold: If there is swelling, apply a cold pack to the area for at least ten minutes.

 Signs of Severe Allergic Reaction:

A severe allergic reaction is life-threatening and could result in anaphylaxis, where a person’s airways become so swollen that it becomes difficult for them to breathe. Emergency medical assistance must be called immediately for a person if they:

  • Have a swollen face, mouth, throat or neck. 
  • Are having difficulty breathing. 
  • Are having difficulty swallowing.
  • Are feeling sick or they are vomiting.
  • Have a fast pulse or heart rate. 
  • Become dizzy.
  • Lose consciousness. 


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