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First aid for bites and stings

Summer means the sea, sunshine, fresh air and fun. While it’s all good and well to make the most of the outdoors, it does mean that we all need to be a little more cautious when it comes to bites and stings.

One of the best ways to deal with bites and stings is to take precautions to stop them happening in the first place. Insect repellant is a smart choice, but there are a few other ways you can protect yourself, including:

● When you’re outside, check all of your food and drink containers before you eat or drink from them — some insects like wasps are attracted to food and drinks

● Make sure you’re wearing shoes when you’re outside to protect your feet from insects

● Cover your skin where possible, especially in the evenings or early mornings when insects are particularly active

● Avoid insect nests

● If you’re camping, avoid setting up near bodies of water like ponds, creeks or swamps where mosquitos are commonly found

● Stay out of long grass and wear long pants if you will be around bushy areas

● Give furniture, camping equipment and luggage a shake before using it


When it comes to bites and stings, one of the most serious considerations is anaphylaxis or a severe allergic reaction.

Anaphylaxis is more likely to happen as a result of an insect sting as opposed to a bite. This is because allergies to venoms from stinging insects including bees, wasps and ants are one of the most common causes of anaphylaxis in Australia.

Symptoms of anaphylaxis include:

● Swelling of the tongue, mouth or throat

● Wheezing or difficulty breathing

● Hot flushes, nausea or vomiting

● An instant rash

● Feeling weak, collapsing or falling unconscious

Many people are aware that they have anaphylaxis and will carry an EpiPen which can be injected in the event of a severe allergic reaction. If you or one of your family members experiences any of the extreme symptoms listed above, call 000 immediately.

Remember that if EpiPen usage is required, urgent medical intervention is still required as the allergic reaction could continue after the EpiPen wears off.

Venomous bites and stings

In the event of a bite from a venomous snake, funnel-web spider, blue ring octopus or cone shell snail bite, the first thing to do is call 000 for urgent medical attention.

These bites are treated with pressure immobilisation as first aid. This aims to keep as much venom retained in the bite area as possible and stop the lymphatic system from transporting it further into the bloodstream.

● Minimise all movement of the affected area to slow the venom.

● Apply a firm pressure bandage to the entire limb using an elastic bandage or clothing strips. Do not make the bandage too tight, as this could cut off blood supply going to the limb.

● Use a splint if available, or use items that you have around you, like a stick.

● Do not try to such out the venom or use a tourniquet.

● Wait for medical attention to arrive.

Jellyfish and stonefish

In the event of an irukandji, box jellyfish, morbakka and jimble jellyfish stings should be washed with lots of vinegar.

Irukandji syndrome can develop about 30-40 minutes after being stung by irukandji jellyfish. Symptoms include:

● Headache

● Overall body ache

● Chest and stomach pain

● Nausea and vomiting

● Breathing difficulties

Stonefish stings should be washed with hot water.

Call 000 immediately if stung by stonefish, box jellyfish or Irukandji jellyfish.


Stay calm and find a beach-side shower near the carpark or the lifeguard tower. Wash the area with water that is as hot as can be tolerated for twenty minutes. If the pain doesn’t go away, remove from hot water and reimmerse for another twenty minutes. You can also try taking Panadol to help relieve some of the discomfort until the pain subsides.

If the area starts to look worse, continues to swell or you are experiencing fever, nausea or pain hours after the sting, you should seek medical attention.

Bees and wasps

If the stinger is embedded into your skin, it can be removed by scraping the area with your fingernail or a flat object like a bank card, rather than brushing it off. This is to avoid squeezing more venom into the skin.

Wash the area with soapy water and apply a cold compress or ice pack to reduce the pain and swelling. If the itching persists, you can apply a topical cream or take some antihistamine tablets. Visit your local Capital Chemist pharmacist to discuss which treatment options may be right for you.


If you become unwell with a fever, rash or joint pain following a mosquito bite you should seek medical advice as soon as possible.

To relieve the itching, you can apply an anti-itch cream or calamine lotion, both available at your pharmacy. An ice pack wrapped in clean fabric can also be applied to help reduce the swelling.

As hard as it may be, try to resist scratching. This can break the skin and potentially lead to an infection. In severe cases, an antihistamine from your pharmacy will help.


Bites from different spiders require different treatments. If possible, try to catch the spider so that you can identify which kind of spider it is. This is beneficial for you as well as any health professionals who may be required to provide you with assistance.

Wash the site of the bite with soapy water, use an ice pack to relieve any pain or swelling and apply a topical cream to relieve the itching.

It’s best to seek medical attention as soon as possible because you may require an antivenom to ensure that no severe reactions develop over time.

Your bites and stings toolkit

Your local Capital Chemist has a range of products on hand to help prevent and treat bites and stings:

● Antihistamines can help to reduce the itching

● Hydrocortisone cream can reduce redness and inflammation

● Anaesthetic creams will numb the areas to relieve the pain

● Tropical-strength water resistant insect repellant can help to protect you from insects

● Ice packs can help to relieve pain and swelling

● It’s important to always have a fully-stocked first aid kit, including bandages and creams. Be sure to have this in your home and to take it with you on your travels, especially if you are camping, bush-walking or going to the beach.

Remember to tell your pharmacist about any health conditions that you have or any medications that you are taking, as some over-the-counter medicines may not be right for you.

See a doctor if:

● You’re not sure which animal or insect caused the bite or sting

● The discomfort, such as pain, itching or burning is getting worse

● Your skin becomes broken, weeping or looks infected

● You feel dizzy, nauseous, or are sweating a lot

Download our Bites & Stings Brochure

This information is for reference and education only. If you have an emergency please call 000 immediately. For medical information please call the Poisons Information Centre on 13 11 26

You may also be interested in the following:

Mosquito bites and camping at the coast

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Acknowledgement of Country

Capital Chemist acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of the land on which we operate, live and gather as employees, and recognise their continuing connection to land, water and community. We pay respect to Elders past, present and emerging.