Insect bites and stings are common and usually cause only minor irritation. However, some stings can be painful and trigger a serious allergic reaction. In the UK, insects that bite include midges, mosquitoes, fleas, bedbugs and – although not strictly insects – spiders, mites and ticks, which are arachnids.
Most bites and stings are treated by:
• washing the affected area with soap and water
• placing a cold compress (a flannel or cloth soaked in cold water) over the area to reduce swelling
Try not to scratch the affected area to avoid infection and if you are in pain or the area is swollen, take painkillers, such as paracetamol or ibuprofen.
You are more likely to be bitten or stung if you work outdoors or regularly take part in outdoor activities, such as camping or hiking. Wearing insect repellent and keeping your skin covered will help avoid a bite or a sting. Try not to panic if you encounter wasps, hornets or bees and back away slowly (do not wave your arms around or swat at them).
What may start as a seemingly harmless day of gardening can quickly take a turn for the worse when common plants make their mark on your skin. While many of the skin reactions resulting from contact with a hazardous plant are more of a nuisance than anything else, others can cause severe or long-lasting effects that require medical attention.
Many plant-related rashes are caused by plants containing spines or thorns. These plants include cacti and prickly pear, figs, mulberries, thistles, and saw palmetto. In the case of cacti or other spiny plants, the spine should be carefully removed from the skin, usually with tweezers. If it's a really small spine or glochid, apply glue and gauze to the site, allow it to dry, and peel it off.
Minor itching, irritation, or rash can be typically treated with an oral antihistamine or over-the-counter topical steroid. But if a rash doesn't respond to over-the-counter treatments, you should see a dermatologist. In cases where a rash is accompanied by more severe reactions such as difficulty in breathing or swallowing, go to the emergency room immediately.
If you come in contact with poison ivy or poison sac (mainly in the USA), rinse the skin with water immediately. About 50% of the urushiol will come off if you rinse within 10 minutes. But avoid soap; it can spread the resin. Lukewarm baths and soaks with products containing aluminum acetate (a type of salt that dries up the blisters and any weeping) and topical preparations such as calamine or topical steroids are helpful in treating a poison ivy rash.