Bug Bites and Stings

Bug bites and stings usually are just nuisances. They bring momentary alarm, temporary discomfort and pain, but no serious or lasting health problems. But on occasion, they can cause infections that require treatment and allergic reactions that can be serious, even fatal.

Parents should know the signs of an infection or allergic reaction, and when to get medical attention. Inform all caregivers if a child has any history of complications so they know what to do in the event of a bug bite or sting.

What to Do About:

Bee and Wasp Stings

  • A bee will leave behind a stinger attached to a venom sac. Try to remove it as quickly as possible. (Wasps don't leave their stingers in the skin after stinging, which means they can sting more than once.)
  • Wash the area carefully with soap and water. Do this two to three times a day until the skin is healed.
  • Apply an ice pack wrapped in a cloth or a cold, wet washcloth for a few minutes.
  • Give acetaminophen or ibuprofen for pain.
  • For pain and itching, give an over-the-counter oral antihistamine if your child's doctor says it's OK; follow dosage instructions for your child's age and weight. You could also apply a corticosteroid cream or calamine lotion to the sting area.
  • A sting anywhere in the mouth warrants immediate medical attention because stings in oral mucous membranes can quickly cause severe swelling that may block airways.
  • Seek medical care if you notice a large skin rash or swelling around the sting site, or if swelling or pain persists for more than 3 days, which could indicate an infection.
  • Get medical help right away if you notice any of the following signs, which may indicate a serious or potentially life-threatening allergic reaction:
    • wheezing or difficulty breathing
    • tightness in throat or chest
    • swelling of the lips, tongue, or face
    • dizziness or fainting
    • nausea or vomiting

Spider Bites

  • Wash the area carefully with soap and water. Do this two to three times a day until skin is healed.
  • Apply cool compresses.
  • Give acetaminophen or ibuprofen for pain.
  • To protect against infection, apply an antibiotic ointment and keep the child's hands washed. If you have any reason to suspect a bite by a black widow or brown recluse spider, apply ice to the bite site and take your child to the emergency room. Even if a child doesn't show any symptoms, get medical attention right away.

    Most spiders found in the United States are harmless, with the exception of the black widow and the brown recluse spider. The brown recluse spider — a tiny oval brown spider with a small shape like a violin on its back — is found mostly in midwestern and southern parts of the United States. The bites usually don't hurt at first, and a child might not even be aware of the bite, but in some cases they cause swelling and changes in skin color and a blister.

    The black widow spider, which is found all over North America, has a shiny black body and an orange hourglass shape on its underbelly. The venom (poison) in a black widow bite can cause painful cramps that show up within a few hours of the bite. The cramps can start in the muscles around the bite and then spread. The bite may also lead to nausea, vomiting, chills, fever, and muscle aches. If your child has any of these symptoms — or you know that he or she has been bitten — go to the emergency room right away.

In the southwest United States, an unidentified bite may be caused by a scorpion. Take your child to the emergency room immediately.

Tick Bites

Check kids and pets for ticks carefully after you've been in or around a wooded area. Common types of ticks include dog ticks and deer ticks (deer ticks may be carriers of Lyme disease).

If you find a tick on your child:

  • Call your doctor, who may want you to save the tick in a sealed container or zip-locked bag for identification later.
  • Use tweezers to grasp the tick firmly at its head or mouth, next to the skin.
  • Pull firmly and steadily on the tick until it lets go (do not twist or jerk the tick), then swab the bite site with alcohol.
  • Don't use petroleum jelly or a lit match to kill and remove a tick. These methods don't get the tick off your skin, and they may just cause the insect to burrow deeper and release more saliva (which increases the chances of disease transmission).

Reviewed by: Elana Pearl Ben-Joseph, MD
Date reviewed: May 2010

Kids Health

Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.

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