Recommendations

1.1 Managing insect bites and stings

Assessment and advice

1.1.1 Be aware that:

  • a rapid-onset skin reaction from an insect bite or sting is likely to be an inflammatory or allergic reaction, rather than an infection

  • most insect bites or stings will not need antibiotics.

1.1.2 Assess the type and severity of the insect bite or stings to identify:

1.1.3 Advise people with an insect bite or sting that:

  • a community pharmacist can advise about self‑care treatments

  • skin redness and itching are common and may last for up to 10 days

  • it is unlikely that the skin will become infected

  • avoiding scratching may reduce inflammation and the risk of infection

  • they should seek medical help if symptoms worsen rapidly or significantly at any time, or they become systemically unwell.

1.1.4 For people with a known or suspected tick bite, follow the NICE guideline on Lyme disease.

For a short explanation of why the committee made these recommendations, see the rationale section on assessment and advice.

For more details, see the evidence review.

Treating a local inflammatory or allergic skin reaction

1.1.5 Do not offer an antibiotic for an insect bite or sting in people who do not have symptoms or signs of an infection.

1.1.6 Be aware that people may wish to consider oral antihistamines (in people aged over 1 year) to help relieve itching, even though there is uncertainty about their effectiveness in managing insect bites or stings. Some antihistamines cause sedation, which may help at night.

Treating an infected insect bite or sting

1.1.7 For people with an insect bite or sting who have symptoms or signs of an infection, see the recommendations on choice of antibiotic in the NICE guideline on cellulitis and erysipelas.

For a short explanation of why the committee made these recommendations, see the rationale section on treatment.

For more details, see the summary of the evidence.

Reassessment

1.1.8 Reassess people with an insect bite or sting if:

  • symptoms or signs of an infection develop (see the NICE guideline on cellulitis and erysipelas)

  • their condition worsens rapidly or significantly, or they become systemically unwell

  • they have severe pain out of proportion to the wound, which may indicate the presence of toxin‑producing bacteria.

1.1.9 When reassessing people with an insect bite or sting, take account of other possible diagnoses such as Lyme disease (see the NICE guideline on Lyme disease).

Referral and seeking specialist advice

1.1.10 Refer people with an insect bite or sting to hospital if they have symptoms or signs suggesting a more serious illness or condition, such as a systemic allergic reaction (see the NICE guideline on anaphylaxis).

1.1.11 Consider referral or seeking specialist advice for people with an insect bite or sting if:

  • they are systemically unwell

  • they are severely immunocompromised, and have symptoms or signs of an infection

  • they have had a previous systemic allergic reaction to the same type of bite or sting

  • it is in the mouth or throat, or around the eyes

  • it has been caused by an unusual or exotic insect

  • they have fever or persisting lesions associated with a bite or sting that occurred while travelling outside the UK.

For a short explanation of why the committee made these recommendations, see the rationale section on referral and seeking specialist advice.

For more details, see the evidence review.

Terms used in the guideline

Cellulitis and erysipelas

Infections of the tissues under the skin (subcutaneous), which usually result from a contaminated break in the skin. Both conditions are characterised by acute localised inflammation and oedema. The lesions are more superficial in erysipelas and have a well-defined, raised margin.

Erythema migrans

Erythema migrans is an expanding rash often seen in the early stage of Lyme disease, and can also (but less commonly) be caused by southern tick-associated rash illness. It usually becomes visible from 1 to 4 weeks (but can appear from 3 days to 3 months) after a tick bite and lasts for several weeks.

Insect bite or sting

For the purpose of this guideline, 'insect bites' also includes bites from spiders and ticks. Insects may bite with their mouthparts when feeding or defending themselves. Stings come from bees, wasps and hornets and are used only for defence.

  • Public Health England
  • National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE)