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First Aid: Insect Stings and Bites

Although insect stings and bites can be irritating, in most cases symptoms begin to disappear by the next day and don't require medical care. However, kids who are allergic to some insect stings or bites may sometimes have life-threatening symptoms that need emergency treatment.

Signs and Symptoms

Of a mild reaction:

  • red bumps
  • itchiness
  • mild swelling

Of a severe allergic reaction:

  • swelling of the face or mouth
  • difficulty swallowing or speaking
  • chest tightness, wheezing, or difficulty breathing
  • dizziness or fainting

What to Do

If there are signs of a severe reaction:

  • If your child has injectable epinephrine (EpiPen), give it right away, then call 911. Tell them your child is experiencing a life-threatening emergency. If someone is with you, have that person call 911 while you give the epinephrine.
  • If your child is conscious and you don't have epinephrine, give diphenhydramine, then call 911 as above.

If there are no signs of a severe reaction:

  • If your child was stung and the insect's stinger is visible, remove it as quickly as possible by scraping the skin horizontally with the edge of a credit card or your fingernail.
  • Wash the area with soap and water.
  • Apply ice or a cool wet cloth to the area to relieve pain and swelling.

Seek Medical Care

If:

  • the sting or bite is near or inside the mouth
  • your child has a known severe allergy to a stinging or biting insect
  • injectable epinephrine (EpiPen) was used
  • the site looks infected (increasing redness, warmth, swelling, pain, or pus occurring several hours or longer after the sting or bite)

Think Prevention!

Teach kids to avoid:

  • walking barefoot while on grass
  • playing in areas where insects nest or congregate
  • drinking from soda cans outside (these attract insects)

Reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: April 2014