July 02, 2015

Q: What's the best way to treat my child's bug bites?

A: Unfortunately, mosquitoes, bees, and other insects love young skin. Though they can be painful and annoying, most bites are not serious -- but you should learn how to spot potential allergic reactions or infections. Here's what to do for the most common pests:

MosquitoesMosquito bites can be unbearably itchy, but scratching can break the skin and cause an infection, so clip your child's fingernails and encourage her not to scratch. To ease the itch, apply a cool compress or rub an ice cube on the bite for several seconds. Calamine lotion or a paste made with three teaspoons of baking soda and one teaspoon of water can also help temporarily. If the itch keeps your child awake at night, ask your pediatrician if it's okay to use a topical anesthetic cream like hydrocortisone.

BeesIf a bee stings your child, first check to see if the stinger was left behind. If it was, use a clean fingernail, credit card, or the edge of a very dull knife to scrape the stinger out. This won't be the easiest thing to do while you're child is screaming, so try to calm her down first. Just be careful not to rub against the sting while you're comforting her. Once the stinger's out, wash the area with soap and water and apply a wet washcloth or cold pack for several minutes to reduce swelling, followed by a paste of baking soda and water to relieve any itching. If the pain and itching is severe, ask your doctor if you can give your child an over-the-counter antihistamine like Benadryl. Just remember: Never give your child an oral antihistamine while also applying a topical one or she can overdose.

If your child has never been stung before, watch carefully for signs of a severe allergic reaction, including symptoms like hives, dizziness, wheezing, pale skin, vomiting, and a weak, rapid pulse, which can signal the onset of anaphylactic shock. If this happens, go straight to the ER.

TicksIf you find a tick on your child, use tweezers and grab it by the head or mouth (not the body) as close to the skin as possible. Pull back slowly, being careful not to squeeze too hard or twist the tick, which may cause you to leave some of it behind in the skin. Then clean the wound with a disinfectant. Save the tick in a bottle of rubbing alcohol and call your doctor. Tick bites can cause Lyme disease, a serious infection that sometimes (but not always) appears as a red bull's-eye rash and causes fatigue, achy joints, fever, and tingling or numbness in the arms and legs. If you live in a rural or forested area where ticks are common or take your family camping, inspect everyone from head to toe every time you come indoors. Be sure to wash all your clothes as well.

No matter what your child was bitten or stung by, give your doctor a call if the area becomes very swollen, the pain gets worse, or it appears infected. And it's always a good idea to avoid these bites in the first place by using a bug repellant when you'll be outdoors for long periods of time. When applying any bug repellent, spray it on your hands first then rub it onto your child and use it sparingly around their face. --Julie Evans

Originally published in American Baby magazine, July 2004. Updated 2009

Answered by American Baby Team