Summer bites and stings – a doctor’s guide to prevention and treatment

Last updated:
Reviewed by:
Dr Rhianna McClymont, Lead GP at Livi
Summer means embracing the great outdoors, but it also comes with the increased chance of bites and stings. Here’s how to be prepared

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It’s not only the sun that comes out in summer. Hot weather also brings with it stinging insects and animals. The good news is that you can follow these simple steps to lower your risk, and here’s what to do if you get bitten or stung to reduce the discomfort.

How to prepare against bites and stings

Make sure you cover up with loose clothing and use a repellent when you’re outdoors – particularly around water, long grass and woodland. If you’re in grassy, shady areas, be mindful of ticks. Insect repellents containing 50% DEET provide up to 12 hours’ protection.

If you prefer a more natural insect repellent, some evidence has found that lemon eucalyptus, citronella and linalool oil may have proven repellent properties.

What to do if you do get bitten or stung

Most discomfort and itching from bites and stings is short-lived and won’t require medical treatment. A cold compress, ice pack or bag of frozen peas should provide sufficient relief.

Discourage children from scratching bites as it increases the risk of infection.

For persistent itching, adults and children over 10 years can use a mild hydrocortisone cream, which is available from most pharmacies.

For painful bites, try paracetamol syrups for infants aged from 2 months, and tablets or syrups to children aged above 6 years. Alternatively, you can give ibuprofen to babies from 3 months. However, ibuprofen isn’t recommended for anyone with asthma.

For swelling and allergic reactions, you’ll need oral or topical antihistamines.

Seek medical advice if:

  • Symptoms worsen or don’t improve after a few days
  • You develop any new symptoms after a few days
  • An area of 10cm or more around the bite becomes red and swollen
  • There is pus around the bite
  • You develop swollen glands, breathing difficulties or flu-like symptoms

If you have a severe allergic reaction, a doctor may suggest carrying an auto-injecting adrenaline pen (also known as an EpiPen).


Mosquitoes suck blood through their bite. It doesn’t hurt, but it does itch.

Follow the steps above to reduce your risk and treat bites. If you feel worse after a few days of being bitten, get medical advice.


There are more than 150 species of biting midges. They are common throughout Scotland, Scandinavia and northern Europe and are often found around water.

Midge bites aren’t dangerous, but can be intensely itchy. They sometimes swell and develop into fluid-filled blisters. Follow the steps above if bitten – especially trying not to scratch.


Horseflies are bigger than houseflies and have larger, multi-coloured eyes and a painful bite.

Be careful if you’re running or doing anything strenuous, as there’s evidence that horseflies are attracted by exhaled carbon-dioxide.

Ease any pain with a cool compress or local anesthetic spray, and follow the steps above.

Bees, wasps and hornets

All these insects are attracted to sugary drinks, so when you’re outdoors, avoid drinking from cans and other containers that bees and wasps can fly into. Close unfinished bottled drinks as soon as you can.

If you do get stung, then removing the sting quickly is the key to reducing pain. Scrape it out with a credit card, or squeeze it out with your fingers. For these particular stings, avoid using tweezers as you can spread the venom.

Wash and, if possible, elevate the area to reduce swelling. Pressing something cold against the bite can also help reduce the swelling.

A small proportion of us are allergic to bee and wasp stings. Get immediate medical advice from a doctor in the event of breathing difficulties, fast heartbeat, confusion, clammy skin or light-headedness.


From late May to early June, oak processionary moth caterpillars – which are found throughout Europe – are covered in toxic hairs that, if touched, cause an itchy rash. They can also be carried in the wind, leading to sore throats, eye irritation and asthma.

Rinse the area with water and apply an antihistamine (for children aged above 2). Anyone who suffers from asthma should carry an inhaler, and oral antihistamines will help to ease throat and eye irritation.


Several species of jellyfish are found in the English Channel, the North Sea and the Baltic Sea. The most venomous is the Lion’s Mane, which grows up to 2m, and has been found off the coasts of France, Germany, Ireland, Sweden and the UK.

Avoid swimming in water where you know there are jellyfish. If you’re stung, rinse the area with seawater – not fresh – and remove any spines using tweezers. Soak the area in water as hot as can be tolerated for at least 30 minutes – or apply hot flannels or towels. Take paracetamol or ibuprofen for the pain.

If you’re stung by a jellyfish, it’s best not to:

  • Use vinegar
  • Urinate on it
  • Apply ice or a cold pack
  • Cover the wound

See a doctor if you experience severe pain that doesn’t improve after an hour or so, or if the face or genitals have been stung.


The European adder can be found throughout the UK and Europe. It grows up to 90cm, ranges from light to dark brown, and most have a zigzag pattern down their back.

Most bites aren’t serious but they do require medical attention, so speak to a doctor as soon as you can.

It’s especially important to get medical assistance quickly in the event of breathing difficulties, chest pain, seizures, severe swelling, vomiting or light-headedness.

Speak to a GP about bites and stings

If you’re concerned about bites or stings, book a meeting to discuss with a doctor

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