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First Aid for Insect Bites & Stings

Bites and stings can cause your child's skin to itch and swell. In some cases, they may be painful--and even serious. The key to treatment is recognizing the insect. Here's a field guide.

Bee Sting

What it looks and feels like: A red, swollen, and sore area. Usually, a black stinger protrudes from the skin.

Treatment: To remove the stinger, gently scrape the skin with a credit card or your thumbnail. Don't pinch the stinger with your fingers or with tweezers, because this could squeeze more venom into the skin. Clean the area with soap and water, then apply a cool washcloth or ice pack to reduce soreness.

Mosquito Bite

What it looks and feels like: An itchy, raised red bump. These bites sometimes occur in clusters.

Treatment: Avoid scratching the area, since this might lead to bleeding and infection. Clean with soap and water. Apply a cool compress or calamine lotion to reduce swelling and itching.

Fire-ant Sting

What it looks and feels like: Tiny, painful red bumps. They often change into blisters after an hour or two.

Treatment: Reduce pain by applying an ice pack at ten-minute intervals for up to half an hour. Afterward, apply calamine lotion.

Tick Bite

What it looks and feels like: A red, circular bump that appears once the tick is removed.

Treatment: Using tweezers, grasp the tick as close as possible to its head and your child's skin. Avoid squeezing the tick's abdomen. Pull it straight out, and drop it into a container of alcohol. (Your doctor may want to examine it; see "Lyme-Disease Dangers.") Wash the area with soap and water. Apply alcohol or an antibiotic ointment to the skin. Don't use petroleum jelly or a match to remove the tick.

Flea Bite

What it looks and feels like: Tiny, itchy red bumps, usually below the knee.

Treatment: Reduce itching by applying an ice pack or calamine lotion to the area.

Spider Bite

What it looks and feels like: A blister surrounded by redness and swelling. A black-widow bite produces faint red bite marks, swelling, and severe pain. A brown-recluse bite causes redness, stinging, and a fluid-filled blister.

Treatment: Most bites from spiders in the U.S. aren't life-threatening. Clean the area with soap and water, and place an ice pack on it. But call your doctor or 911 immediately if you suspect a black-widow or brown-recluse bite, since both types of spider are poisonous.

If you notice any of these symptoms after your child is stung by a bee or bitten by another insect, he may be having a serious allergic reaction. Call 911 right away if he experiences any of the following:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Drooling
  • Faintness or unconsciousness
  • Hives or itching all over his body
  • Excessive swelling, especially near eyes, lips, or genitals
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Stomach cramps
  • Rapid heart rate

If you know your child is allergic, consult your pediatrician. He may recommend that you buy a special epinephrine first-aid kit.

During the summer, when children spend a lot of time playing outdoors, they are particularly vulnerable to insect attacks. Here's what you should do to protect your child.

  • To reduce the risk of infection from scratching, trim his fingernails. Call your doctor if a bite becomes very red and swollen, or if yellowish fluid or red streaks appear.
  • Don't dress him in bright clothes, which attract insects.
  • Teach him to avoid beehives and fire-ant mounds. Destroy them, especially if you have a young child. These insects can attack in swarms.
  • After your child plays in the woods or grass, comb his hair to inspect for ticks.
  • Seek immediate medical attention if he is stung anywhere in the mouth. Severe swelling in the mouth can quickly block the airways and cause difficulty breathing.

06-01-2003

Copyright © 2003. Reprinted with permission from the June 2003 issue of Parents magazine.