Kids Health Info

Insect bites and stings

  • Most insect bites and stings are not poisonous and come from mosquitoes, flies, fleas, spiders, ticks, wasps, bees and beetles. In Australia it is rare for insects to transmit diseases to people. When it does happen, it usually tends to be in remote parts of the country.

    All insect bites are allergic reactions and the size of the reaction depends on the degree of allergy your child has. Very occasionally children may have a severe allergic reaction called 'anaphylaxis'. If this happens it needs to be treated urgently. 

    As a general rule for repeated insect bites (such as mosquitos), the size of insect bite reactions are larger in early childhood then slowly reduce as the child gets older.

    Signs and symptoms

    The symptoms of insect bites or stings can vary a lot depending on how allergic your child is to that insect.

    The signs and symptoms include:

    • Minor skin reaction with a painful itchy lesion where the insect has bitten or stung.
    • Some children have a more significant reaction with swelling and redness larger than 5 centimetres across.
    • A small number of children (and adults) have a severe allergic reaction called anaphylaxis. The symptoms of anaphylaxis include hives, itching, stomach cramps, coughing, wheezing, difficulty breathing and swallowing, choking and fainting.

    If your child has any swelling of the lips or tongue, or difficulty breathing seek medical help immediately.

    Care at home

    If your child is stung or bitten you may be able to manage the problem without seeing a doctor. You could try:

    • Washing the skin where it was bitten.
    • Calamine lotion to help stop itching.
    • Ice packs or cool face washers can help with pain and swelling.
    • If an arm or leg is bitten, have your child rest with the limb raised.
    • If your child continues to scratch the bite you can give some antihistamine medicine, such as Phenergan or Zyrtec. It is given by mouth and can be purchased from your local chemist
    • Strong steroid creams applied early and regularly onto the skin that was bitten can often give relief. These creams can only be bought with a prescription from your doctor.
    • If your child has been stung by a bee, carefully scrape the sting out. Do not pinch and pull the sting out, as this will cause more poison to be injected.

    See your doctor if:

    • There are any reactions in other parts of the body, such as hives or breathing problems.
    • Your child has a lot of pain where they were bitten which does not settle down within a few hours.
    • If the swelling or itching gets worse after 24 hours.

    Treatment

    If your child has had a bad allergic reaction in the past, their doctor may suggest using an oral steroid drug such as prednisolone, or a self injection kit called an Epipen.

    • If these medicines are prescribed they should be carried with your child at all times.
    • All people caring for your child should know when and how to give the medicine if your child is bitten or stung.

    Prevention

    Outdoors

    • Keep picnic food covered and wipe any spills immediately.
    • Wear long sleeved shirts and pants that fit snugly around the wrists and ankles.
    • Make sure rubbish bins are securely fastened so the contents don't attract insects.
    • Stay away from pools of stagnant (still) water, which are a breeding ground for mosquitos.
    • Avoid perfumes and scented lotions, soaps and cosmetics.
    • Cover infant strollers with netting.

    Insect repellents

    • Follow the manufacturers instructions and only use  insect repellents sparingly.
    • In young children, insect repellents are safest if rubbed or sprayed on clothing rather than skin. Don't spray on the skin of children under the age of one.
    • The most effective repellents contain the chemical DEET. Choose sprays that contain no more than 10% DEET (e.g. RID,

      or Johnson's Kids Skintastic).
    • Reapply insect repellent after swimming or doing activities that make you sweat.

    Indoors

    • Don't turn the lights on in bedrooms until the windows are closed (or screened) and the curtains are drawn.
    • Fit insect screens to windows.
    • Consider using an electric device which releases insect repellent into the room at night. These usually plug into an electric outlet and the repellent (usually permethrin) is contained either in a bottle of fluid or a small pad.
    • Insecticide sprays e.g. Mortein.

    Follow-up

    • Seek help urgently if your child has any swelling of the lips or tongue, or any difficulty breathing.
    • You are worried for any reason.

     Key points to remember

    • Any medicine your child needs for insect bites or stings should be carried with them at all times.
    • See your doctor if your child has reactions in other parts of the body, such as hives or breathing problems.
    • If your child has been bitten by a bee, try to scrape the sting off. Do not pull the sting out, as this causes more poison to be injected.

     For more information

     

    Developed by the RCH Dermatology Department in 2006. Updated December 2010.

Disclaimer
This information is intended to support, not replace, discussion with your doctor or healthcare professionals. The authors of these consumer health information handouts have made a considerable effort to ensure the information is accurate, up to date and easy to understand. The Royal Children's Hospital, Melbourne accepts no responsibility for any inaccuracies, information perceived as misleading, or the success of any treatment regimen detailed in these handouts.