Insect Bites

Insects that bite, do it to get access to your blood . It's what they feed on. Biting insects include mosquitos, fleas, sand flies or midges and bedbugs.

In New Zealand, thankfully, biting insects do not carry diseases such as malaria, dengue fever or lyme disease, as they do in other countries. However, the result of an insect bite is often uncomfortable. The intense itching associated with insect bites is the result of the insect injecting a small amount of an anti-clotting substance into your skin, so that the blood may be fed on more easily. The bite often develops into a raised, reddened lump and may also blister. The major problem with bites, is that the itching makes us scratch! Scratching the area can sometimes cause infections and sores to develop, which may take some time to heal, and may also cause scarring.

The best way to treat an insect bite, is to get onto it quickly and relieve the itch. Pharmacies have creams, gels and sprays that will help to treat the itch.  Options include soothing or numbing gels, sprays and creams, antihistamine cream as well as mild steroid creams and lotions. Your pharmacist will recommend the best option for you. If you have a lot of  bites, or your reaction is severe, then taking antihistamine tablets by mouth may also be helpful to deal with extended periods of itching. The itch of bites tends to worsen at night when you are in bed and this is when antihistamine tablets are particularly helpful.

Treatment duration varies according to how severe the reaction to the bite is. Some people are particularly sensitive to certain types of insect bites and can experience itching and discomfort for several days after the bite.  Often people that are new to an area may have a more severe allergic response to the insects that inhabits that region. Travellers or those on holiday often have a more severe reaction to insects than those that live locally, as an immunity to the insect appears to develop with repeated exposure or bites in the past.

If the bites have been scratched and you are concerned there may be an infection, your pharmacist can assess your bites and either recommend a treatment over the counter or refer you to your doctor.

As with all preventable conditions, the best treatment of insect bites is not to get bitten in the first place. Regular flea treatment of cats and dogs and good household and personal hygiene will help to remove fleas and bedbugs. It is also helpful to remove or cover pools of water to deter mosquitos. If you're travelling overseas to an area with biting insects known to cause disease, a good insect repellant is recommended. Your pharmacist can advise you of suitable products to use to repel biting mosquitos, sand flies and other insects; as well as advise you about how to discourage insects from being attracted to you or your surroundings.