When your child gets stung or bitten by bugs, signs of allergic reactions include swelling and itching. Learn to spot the signs of severe symptoms and give immediate treatment.

By Tamekia Reece and the Editors of Parents
Updated: June 05, 2019

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.

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

Soothe the pain of insect bites quickly and easily with this advice from Trung Tristan Truong, M.D., a pediatrician at MemorialCare Medical Group, in San Juan Capistrano, California.

Mosquito

Clean a bite ASAP with soap and water to remove any remaining mosquito saliva. Then apply hydrocortisone cream or ointment to reduce itching and inflammation. An oral or topical antihistamine can also help ease itchiness.

DON’T DO THIS: Scratch—it makes the itching worse and can lead to infection. If your child does scratch to the point that he breaks open his skin or it starts to bleed, clean the area, apply an antibiotic ointment, and cover it with a bandage.

Bee

If you can see the stinger in the skin, scrape it off immediately using your fingernail or a credit card. The sooner you do this, the less venom will get into the body. Clean the area with soap and water and apply hydrocortisone cream. Give acetaminophen or ibuprofen for pain relief. Go to the E.R. if you see signs of an allergic reaction, like hives or breathing difficulties.

DON’T DO THIS: Pull the stinger out with your fingers or tweezers. This can inject more venom into the skin, causing more pain.

Spider

Disinfect a bite with soap and water and apply antibiotic ointment. Use an ice pack to reduce pain and swelling. Give your child acetaminophen or ibuprofen for pain and an antihistamine for itching.

DON’T DO THIS: Take a wait-and-see approach. Call your doctor  if you think the spider was a brown recluse or black widow , or if your kid experiences nausea, vomiting, stomach pain, muscle aches, o signs of an infection,such as pus or warmth around the bite.

Ant

Wash the area with soap and water, and apply hydrocortisone cream for itching. If a blister forms, leave it alone. Apply a cool compress to decrease pain and irritation.

DON’T DO THIS: Pop a blister or scratch a bite. Both could lead to an infection. If the blister ruptures, keep it clean and cover it with an antibiotic ointment and a bandage.

Jellyfish

To deactivate the stingers in the tentacles, rinse the area with vinegar or hot water for 30 seconds. Remove the tentacles, if you see them, using tweezers. Soak the area in hot water for at least 20 minutes. For pain, give ibuprofen or acetaminophen.

DON’T DO THIS: Rub the tentacles with a towel, your fingernails, or a credit card, or use cold water or an ice pack on the area—it’ll make the stingers release more venom. And don’t pee on it! Urea is too diluted in human urine to have any healing impact.

When to Seek Help

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.

  • RELATED: 8 Signs Your Child May Be Experiencing a Serious Allergic Reaction
  • 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.

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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