Often it is helpful to know what has bitten in order to take the right measures. Bee stings are very special. On closer inspection you can see the sting and its poisonous apparatus, which usually gets stuck because of the barbs on the sting. For the bee this is fatal, which is why bees will only sting in desperate circumstances – e.g. if they are swallowed unnoticed or if they are trapped in clothing or in a fold of skin. Be careful when removing the sting: at the slightest pressure, further bee venom can get into the sting and only increase the pain.
Wasps also only sting when distressed. So be careful when walking barefoot. You should also avoid hectic waving or hitting. Equally unpleasant are stings (often called bites) from horseflies and ticks. The latter pose a particular danger because the bite can transmit the bacterial pathogens of borreliosis or the dangerous TBE virus (early summer meningo-encephalitis). In any case, the tick should be removed as soon as possible after the bite in order to minimize the risk of transmission.
What are the best first measures?
- Cool the area: Moist compresses, cold tap water or ice cubes – rapid cooling can often reduce the local skin reaction somewhat. To avoid frostbite, it is important that ice or cool packs from the pharmacy are not placed directly on the skin.
- Apply anti-itch ointment or gel: This cools and soothes the unpleasant itching.
- Do not scratch! If you scratch open insect bites, you run the risk of the area becoming inflamed which will only make matters worse.
Important: If you have a strong allergic reaction and the symptoms do not subside, you should urgently consult a doctor. If you suffer from an insect venom allergy, call the emergency doctor immediately. According to the German Federal Statistical Office, in Germany alone about 20 deaths are recorded annually due to anaphylaxis caused by bee or wasp stings. About 3.5% of the population suffer from such an allergy.
If staying in a risk area, e.g. the tropics, you should consult a doctor, e.g. a doctor of tropical diseases. There are prophylaxis or vaccinations against some insect-borne diseases.