Published September 2023
Over the last few months, our private GPs here at Concierge Medical have treated many skin conditions, some of which have been caused by insect bites and stings. In the UK, at this time of year, we see many different types of insects; most are harmless but some can bite and sting, which may need some form of medical intervention.
With the predicted hot weather over the next couple of weeks, we may see a sudden surge of insects in our gardens and homes. The Private GPs at Concierge Medical have compiled a brief list of common insect bites and stings and advice on what you can treat safely at home, and when to seek medical advice.
Ticks are small insects that feed off the blood of mammals and birds. They don’t jump or fly, but climb onto animals or humans as they brush past. Tick season is usually around March to October but can last longer in the right weather conditions. Ticks can carry and spread Lyme disease. This is a bacterial infection caused by the bacteria Borrelia Burgdorferi, which can be transferred to humans by infected ticks. Some studies show that around 5% of tick bites can lead to Lyme disease.
If you find a tick on your skin, the best advice is to remove the tick as soon as possible, clean the area thoroughly, and then closely monitor. The link below gives some detailed advice on how to remove the tick carefully and completely using a simple set of tweezers.
Symptoms of Lyme disease usually present within 1-4 weeks, however can take as long as 3 months. Monitoring is needed for at least 3 months.. If you develop a rash around the bite, especially ones that are circular (like a Bull’s eye target – see photos in the link above), or feel generally unwell with a temperature, seek medical intervention straight away. Lyme disease can be treated with a course of oral antibiotics. Your doctor might need to do a blood test to confirm the diagnosis if it is not obvious immediately by looking. If left untreated, it can lead to longer term fatigue and aches. If you have any concerns at all, please speak to your Concierge Medical doctor.
Thankfully in the UK, we do not have many spiders that can cause serious harm to humans. Nearly all spiders have venom that they use to subdue prey, but in the UK spiders generally aren’t dangerous and don’t cause harm to humans. Most don’t have the ability or the inclination to puncture human skin. Those that do tend to leave nothing more than an itchy red area, usually with two distinct puncture marks.
However, some people can react with greater sensitivity to spider bites and any form of immediate allergic reaction (swelling of hands, face, lips or difficulty breathing) is a medical 999 emergency. A bite can also lead to infection so it’s always worth monitoring reactions. If you are unwell e.g. with a temperature post the bite, or any spreading redness/swelling around the bite, you should contact your Concierge Medical doctor. If you are able to, making a note of the type of spider that bit you as this will be helpful for your doctor. Better still, take a photo.
There are more than 30 different species of mosquitoes in the UK. They aren’t found everywhere, and most only like to feed on birds, but there is one species that is particularly partial to humans; the Culiseta Annulata. This particular species is a biting nuisance and causes very itchy and swollen lumps. If you experience a bite with worsening redness which is sore /warm to touch or experience any fever then this could be a sign of infection and might need antibiotics.
If you are suffering from mosquito bites, the most effective treatment is to clean the area with soap and water then apply an ice pack for about 10 minutes; the cold reduces the itching and swelling and can be reapplied as needed. Using an over the counter anti-itch or antihistamine cream can also help relieve itching.
We are lucky that our UK species don’t carry malaria or dengue fever, but of course if you have travelled from an endemic area, you may well have been infected and travelled back to the UK with the infection. If following travel, you are feeling unwell in any way, contact your Concierge Medical doctor immediately providing as much information as you can about where you have been, when you travelled and medications that you have taken. This information will be used to determine the best course of treatment.
Wasps and Bees
There are hundreds of species of bees and thousands of species of wasps in the UK. The common yellow jacket wasp is probably the biggest culprit and can bite and sting; it doesn’t lose its sting, so will merrily sting multiple times if provoked. Of the bee species, it is the honey bee that usually stings, and most of the time it’s generally the beekeeper (or their neighbour) that gets stung. A wasp sting is usually more painful than a bee sting.
Unlike wasps, bees will lose their sting, so if you are stung by a bee, step 1 is to remove the stinger as quickly as possible to limit the amount of venom transferred to your skin. In both cases, then wash the area with soap and water and apply an ice pack or cloth soaked in cold water to reduce inflammation and itching. Medications such an anti inflammatory or antihistamines are also useful in controlling swelling and itching.
With most bee or wasp stings there is usually no need to seek additional medical advice, however more severe allergic reactions, or infection of the sting site can occur and in these cases medical help should be sought quickly. Severe allergic reactions are rare and can either be localised (swelling around the sting site) or generalised (a whole body reaction such as swelling and difficulty breathing). A generalised (not just the site of the sting) reaction is always a 999 medical emergency.
There are of course many other insects that can cause bites and your Concierge Medical doctor will always be happy to review any skin lumps, bumps or reactions you are concerned about , do get in touch if you have any concerns.
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