Children can be stung or bitten by various types of insects such as mosquitoes, chiggers, fleas, bedbugs, wasps, bees, horseflies, gnats, ants, and centipedes. Although stings are unpleasant and painful, they are rarely dangerous, and the soreness will have lessened or disappeared completely by the next day. If the child has been stung in the mouth or throat or has a severe allergic reaction to the stings, immediate medical attention is needed.
Symptoms of Insect Stings and Bites
Reactions to an insect sting or bite vary by individual and depend on a number of factors: location of the sting or bite, if toxins or irritants have been injected, and how much, and how strongly the child reacts. Some children will have almost no reaction; others may experience swelling. Usually, a sting or bite produces a rapid local reaction, with signs of inflammation such as warmth, swelling, itching, and pain. Occasionally, as time passes, there are signs of delayed reactions that include a fever, enlarged lymph glands, joint pains, or a rash such as hives.
A small percentage of children, usually those with a known history of allergies, develop serious anaphylactic reactions to insect stings or bites: swelling of the face, lips, tongue, and throat, severe breathing difficulties, and circulatory failure. A sting or bite in the mouth or on the neck can also produce swelling and difficulty breathing and swallowing. Immediate medical attention is needed for the anaphylactic reactions and mouth/neck stings.
How to Prevent Insect Stings and Bites
It is nearly impossible to prevent a child from ever being stung or bitten by an insect, but you can reduce the likelihood of your child getting bites or stings by taking a few simple steps.
- Avoid areas where there are wasp nests, beehives, and trash cans with food scraps that attract insects. Avoid wetlands where mosquitoes are plentiful.
- Do not let your child go barefoot on grass.
- Do not let your child drink from soda cans, open bottles, or glasses containing sweet drinks sitting outside if there are a lot of wasps or hornets nearby.
- Cover your child's skin with lightweight clothing and a cap or sun hat.
- Put screens on windows and doors; inspect and repair them regularly for holes.
- Use a mosquito net if your child sleeps outdoors or in a room with an open window.
- Depending on your child's age, apply mosquito repellent. Repellents containing DEET are most effective, and products with less than 10 percent DEET are considered to be safe for children over 6 months of age when used as directed.
Treatment for Insect Stings and Bites
- Move the child to a safe place to avoid any more stings.
- Keep the body part that has been stung still.
- If a stinger is lodged in the wound, try to pull it out with tweezers or scrape it away with a credit card or the back of a knife.
- Wash the infected site with soap and water or wipe with a topical disinfectant.
- Apply a cold compress or ice pack to relieve the pain and reduce the swelling. Place the compress or ice pack directly on the skin. Do not rub or massage the area.
- If the child has been stung in the mouth, give her an ice cube to suck on or cold water to drink to ease the pain and reduce the swelling.
- If the area is itchy or sore, apply 1 percent hydrocortisone cream once or twice a day for a few days.
- Give your child an over-the-counter antihistamine (such as Children's Benadryl) to relive itching and ibuprofen (Children's Tylenol) or acetaminophen (Children's Advil) to relieve fever and pain, but only if the medications have been approved by your doctor.
You do not need to seek medical advice if your child has a mild to moderate reaction to an insect sting or bite, but contact 911 or your doctor immediately if your child:
- Has been stung/bitten by a bee or wasp in the mouth or on the neck.
- Has had an anaphylactic reaction, which usually begins within 20 minutes (no later than two hours) after the sting/bite. The child will have a swollen face, lips, or tongue, difficulty swallowing, breathing, and coughing. Symptoms are often accompanied by hives and severe itchiness.
- Feels confused, has fainted, or has lost consciousness.
- Has been stung/bitten more than 10 times by bees, wasps, hornets, or yellow jackets.
- Has had a pronounced local reaction such as severe swelling, redness, or pain
- Has an infection that usually occurs about 24 to 48 hours after the sting and is characterized by increased pain, tenderness, swelling, and reddening at the site of the sting, along with fever and general fatigue or lethargy.
- Has serum sickness reaction, an uncommon condition known as a delayed hypersensitivity reaction or a type of allergic reaction that occurs one to two weeks after a sting/bite. Symptoms include joint pains, rash (usually in the form of hives), fever, and enlarged lymph glands.
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