What are the different types of insect bites?

Have you or your family been affected?

(Image credit: Alamy Stock Photo)

Treating insect bites is simple, but you need to know what type of insect bite you're dealing with first. Here's everything you need to know.

The recent heatwave has been bringing sunshine and high temperatures to the UK, but it's also brought pesky insects that have probably been bothering you and your family at night.

Last July, the NHS saw a surge of 50 per cent in the number of people seeking medical help to treat insect bites - a total of 7000 calls, Public Health England confirmed to HuffPost UK.

But how do you know what type of insect bite you have? Here's everything you need to know about insect bites and treating them...

Horsefly bite


Flea bite

Insect bites


Mosquito bite

Getty images

Red ant bite

Getty images

Gnat bite


What to do after being bitten by an insect:

1. Wash the affected area: First step is to wash the affected area with soap and water, to make sure it doesn't get infected.

2. Apply a cold compress: When the affected area is completely clean, you should cool it by applying a cold compress (a flannel or cloth cooled with cold water will do) or an ice pack for at least 10 minutes, as this will help with the swelling. Make sure you keep the area raised or elevated, as it can also help reduce swelling.

As well as applying a cold compress or ice pack to the affected area for swelling, you can also take over-the-counter painkillers, such as paracetamol or ibuprofen if you're experiencing pain or discomfort as a result of the bite.

3. Avoid scratching: Taking these steps will help but it's likely the pain, swelling and itchiness will continue for a few days, which is why it's important to avoid scratching or bursting any blisters, as this will reduce the risk of infection. If your treating your children's bites, keep their fingernails short and clean.

For itching, there are some over-the-counter treatments - including crotamiton cream or lotion, hydrocortisone cream or ointment and antihistamine tablets, according to the NHS - that your pharmacist can recommend.

Boots Pharmaceuticals Bite & Sting Relief Antihistamine Cream, £3.39, Buy it now Boots Repel Maximum 50% DEET and PMD lotion, £7.49. Buy it now

Insect bites treatment: When should you get medical advice?

Bites usually don't require medical attention but you should see you GP if:

  • your symptoms don't start to improve within a few days or are getting worse
  • your bite is in your mouth or throat, or near your eyes;
  • more than 10 cm around the bite becomes red and swollen;
  • your bite has pus or increasing pain, swelling or redness – this could mean it's infected and you may need antibiotics;
  • start to develop other symptoms such as a fever, swollen glands and other flu-like symptoms.

How to avoid insect bites

In the summer it is much harder to avoid insect bites in the UK, however there are a few things you can do to help prevent stings and bites.

'Wear shoes when outdoors and apply insect repellent to any exposed areas of skin. This is imperative if you do suffer with allergic reactions to insect bites,' says Jana Abelovska, Medical Advisor at Click Pharmacy.'You ideally want a solution with 50% Deet. Avoid using products with strong perfume such as shampoos, deodorant’s and soaps as these can actually attract insects.' If you are in an area outside where their seem to be a lot of stinging insects, move away from the area to prevent a potential sting.

Why do insect bites cause swelling?

'The swelling around an insect bite can be caused by the histamine which the immune system produces when you experience an insect bite,' says aesthetic doctor, Dr Rita Rakus.

'Histamine production increases the blood flow and white blood cells around the affected area which leads to inflammation or swelling.'  Another reason for swelling can be when bites are irritated by external factors such as clothing rubbing against the bite or if you scratch at the bite.

Rose Goodman

Rose Goodman joined Future Publishing in 2020 and writes across Goodto.com, Woman & Home, Woman, Chat and Woman’s Own magazines. Prior to pursuing her career as a writer, Rose obtained a degree in psychology and went on to work in adult mental health for five years at Addenbrooke’s Hospital, Cambridge, specialising in eating disorders. She is fully trained in first aid, medical emergency response and motivational interviewing – a directive, patient-style counselling approach to address ambivalence in recovery. She graduated with a MA in creative writing from the University of Brighton in 2017. In her spare time she enjoys writing poetry and attending literary events, and offers weekly support to those living with homelessness. Rose has a passion for raising awareness around mental illness and the importance of prioritising our wellbeing.