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What to Do About Bug Bites and Stings

Medically reviewed by: Melanie L. Pitone, MD

First Aid

Bug bites and stings can be irritating. In most cases, symptoms begin to disappear by the next day and don't need medical care.

But kids who are allergic to bug bites or stings might get life-threatening symptoms that need quick medical treatment. And a bug bite or sting can develop an infection.

What Are the Signs & Symptoms of Bug Bites and Stings?

Of a mild reaction:

  • red bumps
  • itchiness
  • mild swelling

Of a severe allergic reaction:

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

Of an infected bug bite:

  • increasing redness
  • pain
  • warmth
  • swelling 
  • draining pus

How Do I Treat a Bug Bite or Sting?

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 having 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 (Benadryl or a store brand), then call 911.

If there are no signs of a severe reaction:

  • If your child was stung and you can see the insect's stinger, 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 wrapped in a towel or cloth or a cool wet cloth to the area to relieve pain and swelling.
  • Keep an eye on the bite or sting for signs of an infection.

When Should I Get Medical Care for a Bug Bite or Sting?

Get medical care right away 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

What Can Help Prevent Bug Bites and Stings?

  • Use insect repellent (bug spray) when you go outside.
  • Stay away from areas that tend to have lots of mosquitos, like standing water.
  • Stay inside at dawn and dusk, which is when mosquitos are most active.
  • Wear clothes that cover the skin and shoes to protect the feet.
  • Wear gloves when gardening.
  • Stay away from bee or wasp nests.
  • Leave buzzing insects alone. Swatting may cause them to sting.
Medically reviewed by: Melanie L. Pitone, MD
Date reviewed: June 2023