July 9, 2023/Children's Health

How To Treat Your Child’s Sting or Bite at Home

Simple solutions to handle backyard encounters with some of nature’s smallest critters

child being treated for bee sting by mom

Kids love to play outdoors. Know what else hangs out in backyards, woodlands and fields? Creepy crawlies that bite and sting.

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If your child gets stung or bitten by a bug, you want to make them feel better as soon as possible. A hug, some tear-drying and a little soap and water are enough to address most situations.

But if those simple steps don’t take care of the problem, emergency medicine physician Baruch Fertel, MD, has some suggestions on what to do next. Let’s look at the “owie” moments one by one.

Bee stings

For starters, let’s not blame bees for every sting. The who-done-it list also may include wasps, hornets, yellow jackets and other winged insects with stingers and occasional anger management issues.

If your child is stung by any of these suspects, expect a few tears, as well as pain, itchiness, redness and swelling around the site of the sting, says Dr. Fertel. Symptoms often last for a day or two.

It’s not unusual for signs of irritation to extend across a wider area, too. (A sting near an ankle can lead to swelling up the leg, for instance.)

Follow these treatment steps if your little one gets stung:

  1. Promptly remove the stinger if it’s sticking out of their skin. More toxin gets released the longer it stays in, which can worsen symptoms.
  2. Wash the area to reduce the risk of infection.
  3. Apply ice, which can help minimize pain and swelling.
  4. Use calamine lotion or hydrocortisone cream to ease itching.
  5. If swelling lingers, talk to your pediatrician about giving your child an antihistamine. An over-the-counter pain reliever also may help if symptoms persist.

In rare cases, bee stings may lead to anaphylaxis, a severe allergic reaction that demands immediate emergency treatment. Signs of an allergic reaction include:

  • Hives.
  • Swelling (face, throat or mouth).
  • Wheezing or difficulty swallowing.
  • Restlessness or anxiety.
  • Rapid pulse.
  • Dizziness or loss of consciousness.

If your child has allergies to other things (such as pollen and dust) or has asthma, it might be worth talking to your pediatrician about allergy testing during bee season. Children with bee sting allergies may be prescribed an EpiPen® to use in case of a severe reaction to a sting.

Mosquito bites

Although quite annoying, mosquito bites are rarely serious. Itching, swelling and red lumps are typical. Welts may vary in size from barely noticeable to near softball-sized.

Encourage your kids NOT to scratch at the bites. Apply calamine lotion or hydrocortisone cream to help with itching if it’s an issue. An antihistamine also may be useful if your child is really feeling the urge to scratch (but consult your pediatrician first).

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Mosquito bites can turn into a problem if kids refuse to leave them alone, says Dr. Fertel. A pro tip? Covering bites with a bandage can keep fingers off of the welts.

If an infection seems to arise, call your pediatrician. Signs of infection include:

  • Swelling at the site of the bite.
  • Yellowish drainage or crusting over the bite.
  • Warm to the touch or fever.
  • Muscle weakness.

Allergic reactions (including hives, throat swelling and wheezing) are rare but do require immediate attention.

Spider bites

It’s estimated that up to 15% of people are afraid of spiders. That may explain why spiders get a bad rap when it comes to bite blame. What most people call a “spider bite” is usually from another insect or other cause.

But spiders can bite. The good news? Most true spider bites are harmless and don’t require special treatment, says Dr. Fertel. Simply wash the area with soap and water and all should be well.

You can also apply an ice pack to numb the bite if it hurts. An age-appropriate dose of an over-the-counter pain medication may be useful, too.

But there are spider bites that can be more serious.

Bites from some arachnids, such as the black widow and brown recluse spiders, are of greater concern. These spiders are found mostly in the Western and Southern United States. Symptoms may include:

  • Swelling.
  • Fluid-filled blister (brown recluse only).
  • Increasing pain and stiffness.
  • Chills.
  • Fever.

Call your pediatrician right away if your child has any of the above symptoms. If the bite is on your child’s arm or leg, elevate it while seeking medical advice. Allergic reactions are rare but require immediate attention.

Tick bites

Odds are you won’t just find a bite mark if a tick sinks its mouth of hooks into your child’s skin. Expect to find the tick, too.

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If you discovera tick on your child, remove the pest immediately — and carefully — using a pair of tweezers, instructs Dr. FertelAfter removing the tick, clean the area with rubbing alcohol. You can also apply antibiotic ointment or calamine lotion to help with itching.

Make sure you remove the entire tick, including the head (which may be embedded in your child’s skin). Any part of the tick left behind can potentially cause Lyme disease, a condition that can cause joint pain and other symptoms.

Save the removed tick in a baggie or other container for potential testing in case your child develops signs of Lyme disease, which could include:

  • A large, red, ring-like mark around the tick bite.
  • Fever.
  • Headache.
  • Feeling tired.
  • Muscle aches.
  • Swollen lymph nodes.
  • Rash.

Contact your child’s pediatrician if a tick bite leads to the above symptoms. Treatment with antibiotics in the early part of Lyme disease is necessary to avoid the spread of infection to the joints, heart and nervous system.

On a side note, if you find one tick, make sure to check for others. Ticks travel quickly once on the body and like to hide in crevasses in the skin, such as armpits or the folds of the groin area. (Learn tips to prevent tick bites.)

Final thoughts

Can bug bites or stings be serious? Yes … but that’s not usually the case, states Dr. Fertel. Typically, bites and stings are just a source of temporary discomfort with no lasting issues needing medical attention.

Chances are good that it won’t be long before your kid is back outside running around like nothing ever happened.

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