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How to recognise an insect bite and how to treat the symptoms

Summer’s finally here. There is only one downside: insects! Nothing is as irritating as those annoying little flying creatures that buzz around when you are trying to get to sleep, stuck in a traffic jam or trying to enjoy an ice cream. Everyone gets the occasional insect bite in the summer. But how can you tell whether that itchy little bump is the result of a wasp, a tick or a mosquito bite? And what should you do about it?

Read our tips to learn how to recognise an insect bite and how to treat the symptoms.

Wasps, bees and hornets

Perhaps the most terrifying of all insects, wasps, bees and hornets are instantly recognisable by their yellow and black striped outfits and their angry buzzing. Hornets are the largest with a nasty sting and are, thankfully, quite rare in the UK, although recent reports of sightings of deadly Asian hornets have caused alarm!
Asian hornets are nearly two inches long, and attack honey bees, as well as humans.

Bumblebees and honeybees are comparatively small and fluffy. They will also sting but are more likely to leave you alone than the smooth and narrow wasp. All stings from wasp-like insects contain poison and cause a sharp stabbing pain followed by an angry lump on the skin. If stung, you should immediately try to remove as much poison as possible by sucking it out of the wound and then keeping the affected area cool, for example, with an ice cube. If a bee or wasp has stung your mouth or throat, or you are allergic to bees or wasps, then immediately notify a doctor.


Horseflies love to bite human skin to suck blood and do not have a sting. They are drawn by heat and movement, after which they quickly attack. You can recognise a horsefly bite by its painful and incredibly itchy wound. Disinfecting the bite and cooling the skin with ice or water is a good idea. Keep a close eye on the bite. If it fails to improve after a few days, visit the doctor.


Travellers beware: the bed bug (also called lice) is a small insect that lies hidden in mattresses – often in hotels – and comes out at night to drink your blood. Bedbug bites cause small red bumps, usually on the legs and often in a line. The only remedy: head to another hotel or purchase a new mattress. The itchy bite marks are not serious and will disappear automatically. Use an itch-relieving cream if necessary.


Ticks like to suck your skin and drink your blood. You can usually recognise a tick bite by the physical presence of the tick, which becomes bloated after consuming all that blood, and then looks a bit like a brown, grey or black pea. If the tick has already gone from your skin, you will notice a red spot that might itch. Keep a close eye on this spot: if a red circle surrounds it in the weeks after the tick bite, you might have been infected with the Borrelia bacterium, which can cause Lyme disease. In that case, straight to the GP.


Midges, also known as gnats, are tiny little grey insects that love to swarm in the summer dusk or at dawn, especially near areas of standing water. Gnats are able to detect carbon dioxide in your breath from up to 200 metres, which explains why they so often emerge to attack walkers. Gnat bites leave small and very itchy lumps. Keep your skin covered as much as possible on a country walk and apply plenty of insect repellent to any areas of exposed flesh.


We probably don’t need to tell you how to recognize a mosquito bite. Everyone has experienced a red, itchy lump, especially anyone who has ever spent a summer in Scotland, as mozzies love the damp and warm conditions. Luckily, mozzie bites are relatively harmless in the UK. Rub on some After Bite or similar itch-quenching remedy, and the itch will soon disappear.

No medication at hand? Try rubbing the mosquito bumps with the inner skin of a banana peel! In the tropics, mosquitoes are more dangerous as the malaria mosquito can transmit malaria. Anti-malaria drugs are, therefore, a must if you are planning on travelling to those areas.

Have you ever thought about what actually happens when a mosquito stings you? And why do mozzies always seem to target you but leave your friends alone? Read more about mozzie bites here and watch our video of a stinging mosquito.


All these insect facts might give you the creeps. Luckily, there are quite a few positive facts that we can report. You might be interested to learn, for example, that:

– Are gnats the most common insect in the UK?
– In many insect species, only the female is able to sting?
– DEET insect spray also repels ticks, leeches and fleas?
– Is vinegar an effective way of relieving the pain and itchiness of an insect bite?

Useful to know if you don’t have any After Bite with you.

Sources: Nhs, Mosi-gaurd

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