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Insect Bites and Stings

Insect bites and stings are common and usually only cause minor irritation. However, some stings can be painful and trigger a serious allergic reaction.

An insect bites you by making a hole in your skin to feed or to defend itself. Most insects sting as a defence by injecting venom into your skin.

Insect Bite Symptoms

When an insect bites, it releases a secretion that can cause the skin surrounding the bite to become swollen, red and/or itchy.

If the insect is venomous, the sting can often also cause a swollen, itchy, red mark (a weal) to form on the skin. This can be painful, but it’s harmless in most cases. The affected area will usually remain painful and itchy for a few days.

The severity of bites and stings varies depending on the type of insect involved and the sensitivity of the person.

In rare cases, some people can have a serious allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) to a bite or sting that requires immediate medical treatment.

See your healthcare professional if there’s a lot of swelling and blistering or if there’s pus, which indicates an infection.

Call 911 if you experience any of these symptoms after a bite or sting:

  • wheezing or difficulty breathing
  • nausea, vomiting or diarrhoea
  • a fast heart rate
  • dizziness or feeling faint
  • difficulty swallowing
  • confusion, anxiety or agitation

How to protect from insect bites and stings

There are a number of precautions you can take to avoid being bitten or stung by insects.

  • Cover exposed skin – if you’re outside at a time of day when insects are particularly active, such as sunrise or sunset, cover your skin by wearing long sleeves and pants
  • Avoid flowering plants, outdoor areas where food is served, rubbish and compost – regularly and carefully remove any fallen fruit in your backyard
  • DEET and icaridin are effective insect repellents with minimal toxic effects
  • Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should try to avoid using insect repellents. Choose nonchemical methods instead, such as wearing pants and long sleeves. If an insect repellent is needed, use one that has less than 10% DEET and apply it sparingly. Pregnant and breastfeeding women can use products that contain soybean oil. Studies have shown these products are very safe. These products do not protect against ticks.
  • DEET should not be used on children under 6 months. A repellent that has less than 10% DEET can be used once a day on children older than 6 months and up to 2 years. Older children can use a repellent containing less than 10% DEET up to 3 times in 1 day.

Treating insect bites and stings

Most bites and stings are treated by:

  • Washing the affected area with soap and water
  • Placing a cold compress (or cloth soaked in cold water) over the area to reduce swelling
  • Some medicinal treatments include:
    • Acetaminophen and Ibuprofen preparations for pain and swelling. Talk to your pharmacist about the right choice for you.
    • Topical Creams of Diphenhydramine preparation (e.g Benadryl) or 1% hydrocortisone Cream to reduce itching and swelling.
    • Others as directed by your healthcare provider

Try not to scratch the area to avoid infection and the spread of the rash. Talk to your pharmacist about over the counter treatments to treat the symptoms of insect bites and stings. If you see a blister or pus, see your health care provider.


  1. Insect Bites and Stings. Compendium of Therapeutics for Minor Ailments. Canadian Pharmacists Association(2016)
  2. Insect Bites and Stings- US National Library of Medicine. MedlinePlus. (2016)
  3. Insect Bites and Stings- National Health Services (UK). (2016)

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This article was provided by the clinical pharmacy at Rx Infinity. Rx Infinity provides optimal and sustainable patient management solutions through customized programs, innovative technology and added value services that improve the overall patient experience; while helping payers and plan sponsors achieve sustainability in the management of drug plans expenditures.

This information is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions about your medical condition. Do not disregard professional medical advice or delay seeking advice or treatment because of something you have read here.

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