Most stings from bees, wasps and hornets cause pain and slight swelling, but have little other effect. But, some people are allergic to stings and can develop reactions that can be life-threatening. Call an ambulance immediately if you suspect an allergic reaction soon after being stung. If you are stung by a bee and the stinger remains in the skin, then scrape out the stinger as quickly as possible. Do not pluck it out as this may squeeze more venom into the skin.
Stinging insects that are common in India include wasps, bees and hornets. The sting is due to venom which the insect 'injects' into the skin.
What may happen after an insect sting or bite?
An insect sting - typically causes an intense, burning pain. This is quickly followed by a patch of redness and a small area of swelling (up to 1 cm) around the sting. This usually eases and goes within a few hours.
An insect bite - you may not notice the bite (although some can be quite painful, particularly from a horsefly). However, saliva from the insect can cause a skin reaction such as:
- Irritation and itch over the site of the bite.
- A small itchy swelling which may develop up to 24 hours after a bite.
- A weal which is like a small fluid-filled lump and is very itchy.
A persistent skin reaction is particularly likely following a tick bite. Severe allergic reactions are rare after insect bites.
A localised allergic skin reaction
A localised reaction causes swelling at the site of the sting. This becomes larger over several hours, and then gradually goes away over a few days. The swelling may even extend up an entire arm or leg. The swelling is not dangerous unless it affects your airway.
A generalised (systemic) allergic reaction
- Itchy skin in many parts of the body, followed by an itchy blotchy rash that can appear anywhere on the body.
- Swelling of your face which may extend to the lips, tongue, throat, and upper airway.
- A sense of impending doom.
- Abdominal cramps and feeling sick.
- General redness of your skin.
- A fast heart rate.
- Low blood pressure, which can make you feel faint, or even to collapse.
- Wheezing or difficulty in breathing due to an asthma attack or throat swelling.
A generalised reaction will usually develop within 10 minutes of a sting. A severe generalised allergic reaction is called anaphylaxis and is a medical emergency.
If you have many bee or wasp stings at the same time, this can also cause serious illness. This is usually directly due to the high dose of venom.
What is the treatment for an insect sting or bite?
- If stung by bees and the stingers are still in place - scrape it out:
- If any symptoms of a generalised allergic reaction develop (see above) then:
- Call an ambulance immediately.
- Take an antihistamine tablet as soon as possible.
- Use a cold compress to ease pain and to help reduce swelling.
- Painkillers such as paracetamol or ibuprofen can help to ease the pain.
- Continue with antihistamines until the swelling eases.
- See a doctor if the swelling is severe. Your doctor may prescribe a short course of steroid tablets to counter the inflammation.
If there is no allergic reaction then:
- A cold compress will ease any pain and help to minimise any swelling.
- A painkiller such as paracetamol or ibuprofen may help if you have any pain.
- A steroid cream may be useful.
- Antihistamine tablets may be useful if you have lots of bites.
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