Bites, Stings and Allergies


Most insect bites and stings result in an itch and swelling that settles within a few days. Severe allergic reactions (anaphylaxis) to insects are usually due to bees, wasps or sometimes ants. In the Pharmacy, we have quite a few effective treatments available to treat allergic reactions to bites and stings, including sprays for mild reactions and anti-histamines for more irritating or widespread reactions.

Allergies to venoms from stinging insects (bees, wasps and ants) are one of the most common causes of anaphylaxis in Australia. Symptoms include an all-over rash, swelling of tongue or throat, trouble breathing, abdominal pain, diarrhoea, vomiting and a drop in blood pressure (shock). If someone has a history of anaphylaxis they should always keep their EpiPen on them at all times, and make sure that everyone in the family knows how to use it!

ASCIA Action Plan for anaphylaxis

Epipen - How to Use!

First aid for minor allergic reactions:

Bees usually leave their barbed sting in the skin and die. Flicking the sting out as soon as possible will reduce the amount of venom injected, and it is best to use the edge of your fingernail, a car key or credit card. If possible try not to squeeze the venom sac, as this may increase the amount of venom injected. By contrast, wasps and bull ants rarely leave their sting in the skin. Cold packs and soothing creams often help for minor reactions, and oral antihistamines can be useful for treating itch. Very large and uncomfortable local reactions may require a visit to your GP, as they may need cortisone tablets to settle the swelling.

Bee sting removal
Bee sting removal

How can we prevent bites and stings?

Bites from midges and mosquitoes are best avoided by covering up as much as possible. Avoid being outdoors in the early morning or at dusk, and use an insect repellent whenever practical. Stings and bites often occur on bare feet, so people with allergies to bites or stings should always wear shoes when outdoors.

When gardening, wear long sleeves, long pants and gloves. Tuck shirt into pants (and pants into socks) to prevent tick bites. It may be obvious to most, but it is best to avoid provoking bees and wasps and, where possible, drive with the windows up.

What about spider bites?

Bites from 'black spiders" (eg. funnel-web or mouse spiders) can be very dangerous and emergency care may be required, including CPR. If someone gets bitten, help them to stay calm and follow these steps:

  • If on a limb, apply an elasticised roller bandage (10–15 cm wide) over the bite site as soon as possible
  • Apply another elasticised roller bandage (if available!), starting just above the fingers or toes and moving upwards on the bitten limb as far as can be reached. Use clothing or other material if an elasticised roller bandage is not available.
  • Apply the bandage as firmly as possible to the limb. You should be unable to easily slide a finger between the bandage and the skin
  • Immobilise the bandaged limb using splints
  • Keep the patient lying down and completely still waiting for the ambulance to arrive

For all other spider bites, including bites from redback spiders:

  • Apply a cold compress or ice pack (wrapped in a clean cloth), directly over the bite site for at least 15 minutes to help relieve the pain
  • Do NOT apply a bandage for pressure-immobilisation, as the pressure can worsen the pain.

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