Summer in Britain is as much about dodging stings and bites from insects as it is soaking up the sun. For most of us this amounts to nothing more than a minor irritation, but for a marginal amount of people each year, it can be fatal.
According to NHS figures the number of potentially life-threatening allergy-related hospital emergencies rose nearly 33% in the last five years, largely due to bees and wasps.
So what are the main creepy-crawly threats and what’s the best way to treat bites or stings?
Wasps are widely regarded as public enemy number one- they cause more allergic reactions than anything else in the UK.
To avoid being stung stay still and don't swat them, wearing white or neutral colours can deter wasps. Be vigilant and check for wasps' nest in and around your home, if you spot any be sure to have them removed by a pest control company.
• Remove the Sting
Royal Pharmaceutical Society spokesman and community pharmacist Sid Dajani says: ‘use tweezers if you can, rather than your fingers, and don’t squeeze the sac as this may release more of the venom into the system.'
• Cool the wound
‘Run the wound under cold water, or keep reapplying a flannel soaked in cold water for ten to 20 minutes’, advises Mr Dajani, ‘this dampens down any local reaction because your body will want to rush blood to the area, which will only make it worse. Don’t use ice as it could burn the skin.’
• Take medication
Painkillers can ease soreness and hydrocortisone cream can help reduce inflammation in adults but is not suitable for children. Mr Dajani advises the use of an antihistamine cream for younger children, symptoms will subside by the end of the day.
Bee stings are similar to wasps but it’s a common myth that they all die once they’ve struck. Whilst Honey bees have a barbed sting that remains in the skin, bumble bees can sting time and again.
Stings are painful but unlikely to cause serious damage, unless you have an allergy to them. Rest assured most people who are allergic do not have a serious reaction to their first sting.
• Remove the sting
Use the same technique as for wasp stings. If you don’t have tweezers, carefully use a clean needle, or try scraping it out with something that has a hard edge- make sure it is clean first.
• Check for infection
• If it becomes tender, pustular and you develop flu-like symptoms, it may be an infection and your GP might prescribe a short course of antibiotics.
• Be aware of allergic symptoms
If you develop any swelling, breathing difficulties, itching, or have trouble swallowing, get someone to call 999 straight away. It could be a rare but potentially very serious reaction known as anaphylactic shock. Seek out urgent medical attention. Treatments vary with the severity of the reaction and range from an adrenaline injection, antihistamines, oxygen or an intravenous drip directly into a vein.
These are large, hairy flies which can give an extremely painful bite and are mostly a problem on warm, sunny days. They bite rather than pierce the skin leaving lesions that can take longer to heal than other insect bites, with a risk of infection.
As well as around stables, you’re most likely to find them near lakes, streams and rivers; golf courses; water parks; amusement parks; cattle farms and long, damp grass.
‘Horsefly bites are the nastiest of them all and the most painful,’ says Sid Dajani, ‘if they do puff up into blisters, whatever you do don’t pop them. That increases the risk of infection. Instead, cover them up and let them heal, while using insect repellent to keep others at bay.'
Midges or gnats, can be a tremendous source of irritation, regardless of what you decide to call them. On damp, cloudy summer days you’re just as likely to run into them in the south of England as you are in the Scottish Highlands.
The bites can be painful, extremely itchy and may even swell up – but they don’t transmit any illness.
The best preventative measures are covering up at dawn and dusk and using an insect repellent.
‘Take a daily antihistamine tablet for a few days,’ says Sid Dajani. For the itching, he recommends over-the-counter pharmacy products like Virasoothe, available at most high street chemists. It’s marketed for chickenpox but works just as well for insect bites and leaves no residue, unlike old-fashioned remedies like calamine lotion.
What could be more pleasant than a stroll through Britain’s woodlands and moors? Except it’s not without its risks, especially if you get bitten by a tick, a tiny blood-sucking creature that clings to your skin once it has latched onto you. It’s not the bite that’s the problem but the fact that it can cause a bacterial infection called Lyme disease. Around 3,000 people a year in England alone contract the illness after being bitten.
Left untreated Lyme disease can cause serious long-term harm, including facial paralysis, memory problems, lack of concentration, heart failure and swollen membranes around the brain.
• Prevention is Best
Wear long sleeves and trousers when you're walking in forested, overgrown areas and use a tick repellent.
• See a Doctor if you're Bitten
If you develop a circular rash that looks like a bulls eye and spreads out from where you were bitten, then see a doctor. It’s important to remember this might only show 30 days after you were bitten. Some people also experience flu-like tiredness, muscle pain, joint pain, headaches, fever and a stiff neck. Most people make a full recovery with an early course of antibiotics.
• Be careful how you remove the tick
Mr Dajani says: ‘If you see a tick attached to your skin, don’t pull it as that can leave part of it behind, which may cause infection. Instead, go to a pharmacy or surgery that is likely to have tick combs designed to remove the whole thing.’
Britain has 33 different types of mosquito. Luckily, most of them prefer biting animals to humans. But their bites can cause intense itching and swelling. There is no risk of illness from domestic varieties but in some countries good prevention is absolutely crucial to reduce the risk of malaria and other infectious diseases.
Prevention and Treatment
• Avoid scented hand or body creams and strong perfumes
Also avoid sparkly, colourful jewellery if you’re going to spend time outside.
• Use an insect repellent containing DEET
Insect repellents are effective but most experts recommend using those containing 50 per cent DEET (diethyl-toluamide), which are proven to work. DEET is safe at this concentration but can damage some plastic watch straps, watch 'glass' and plastic jewellery. ‘Make sure you keep reapplying it,’ says Sid Dajani.
• Apply hydrocortisone cream to bites
Look for a cream containing 1 per cent hydrocortisone actetate an anti-inflammatory steroid which soothes irritation in the skin.