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Don’t let insect bites spoil your summer

July 2018

wasp on a finger
Insect bites can spoil a summer party

Much of our green and pleasant land has currently turned into a yellow crunchy region as the grass dries up due to lack of rain. Love or hate the heat, the UK is experiencing a hot summer. With a wet spring followed by this warmth, insects are especially prolific. Add to this the fact that many of us are spending more time outside than usual…and the inevitable consequence is more insect bites.

Medical teams are reporting they are dealing with a wide range of insect bites this summer, not only from the usual wasps and bees, but also from ticks, caterpillar hairs and other creepy crawly irritants.

Stings can cause a range of reactions from an instantly forgotten sharp prick on the skin or a large red puffy area to a severe allergic reaction.

Generally the treatment for a bite or a sting is to remove the sting, hairs, or any residue left in the skin. This isn’t always as easy as it sounds, and if you pinch the sting with fingers or a pair of tweezers, this can push more venom out and make it all worse. Instead, try and scrape the sting out sideways, either with your fingernails or something hard like a bank card.

Once the source of the bite is removed, then wash the affected area with soap and water. When there is a definite reaction, apply a cold compress to the area (a flannel wrapped around ice cubes or even just soaked in cold water will do the job) for around 10 minutes. This should reduce the effect and minimise any possible swelling. Lifting the affected area can also help. Over the counter remedies for insect bites and stings are available from pretty well all pharmacies.

The NHS advise not to use any of the traditional remedies we were brought up with, such as vinegar and bicarbonate of soda. This is probably sound advice as many of us will remember from childhood the anxiety of trying to identify whether it was a bee or wasp sting so the correct remedy could be used.

Removing a tick is slightly more complicated because of the way they bury into the skin. Again you want to avoid squashing the tick but if you can grip it as near to the skin as possible with a pair of tweezers, you may be able to pull it gently off. It is important to bring the head out with the tick though. There are today special tick removers you can buy online or from selected pharmacies. Once a tick is removed, it is a good idea to use some antiseptic on the area.

We do get mosquitoes in the UK, in fact there are more than 30 types of mosquitoes native to our country. The British Pest Control Association says that this year the early heavy rainfall coupled with the rise in temperatures has provided a fertile environment for insects such as mosquitoes to flourish in the UK.

They are warning especially against the Asian Tiger mosquito which was accidently introduced into Europe in the 1970s. It has now spread across the region and this particular species can transmit viruses including the chikungunya and dengue fever.

While there is no need for any alarm, sensible precautions against mosquito bites makes sense and this includes covering up at dusk when they become especially active. Common symptoms of mosquito bites can include soft bumps on the skin that can become pink and very itchy indeed.

For many of us, the odd insect bite is an accepted part of summer; but for an unlucky few the bite can cause a real problem or even severe reactions. Obviously if you have been stung or bitten in your mouth or throat, or by your eyes, it can be very dangerous and you need to get urgent medical help. The same of course goes for anyone who suffers an allergic reaction to a bite. For most people, bites heal up and the symptoms disappear quickly; but if a large area becomes red or swollen; or if you start suffering any other conditions such as a temperature, then you need to talk to your doctor.

There is of course lots of information on the web about insect bites...although you need to check they are talking about the UK and not another country where conditions can be very different. One site that offers some really useful information has been put together by Mosi-guard (makers of a commercial insect repellent). The NHS also has a useful page on insect bites in the UK.

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