In this section
Most insect bites and stings are not poisonous, and are usually caused by mosquitoes, flies, fleas, spiders, ticks, wasps, bees and beetles. In Australia, it is rare for insects to transmit diseases to people. When this does happen, it tends to be in remote parts of the country.
As a rule, the size of a reaction from repeated insect bites (such as mosquitos) is larger in early childhood then slowly reduces as the child gets older.
All insect bites may cause allergic reactions. The size of the reaction also depends on the degree of allergy your child has. Very occasionally, children may have a severe allergic reaction, called anaphylaxis.
If your child has any signs of anaphylaxis, call an ambulance immediately.
The symptoms of insect bites or stings can vary a lot depending on how sensitive your child is to that insect. Your child's allergic reaction to a bite can worsen over two to three days. If your child has been bitten or stung by an insect, they may have:
If your child is having a severe allergic reaction, they may show the following signs of anaphylaxis:
A sting or bite can sometimes cause the surrounding skin to become infected (cellulitis), and this will require antibiotics. If the skin around the sting is becoming infected, it will become increasingly warm, red and painful to touch. This can happen hours or days after the sting. If you are not sure whether your child has cellulitis, take them to see your GP.
Most insect bites or stings can be treated at home. 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.
For all bites and stings:
Take your child to the GP if:
If your child has had a bad allergic reaction to an insect bite or sting, the doctor may suggest using an oral steroid drug such as prednisolone, or an adrenaline autoinjector (e.g. an EpiPen) for any future bites or stings. If these medicines are prescribed, they should be carried with your child at all times. All people who care for your child should know when and how to give the medicine if your child is bitten or stung.
Do you recommend the use of natural insect repellents?
Natural insect repellents including ingredients such as citronella or eucalyptus may be effective, but repellents containing DEET or picaridin are likely to be more effective.
I think my child has been bitten by a spider. What should I do?
Most spider bites in Australia are not serious, and applying an ice pack will help relieve the pain. If you think the spider was a funnel web or mouse spider, firmly bandage the area and make sure your child lies still. Call an ambulance. If you think the spider was a red-back or white-tailed spider, wash the area of the bite and apply an icepack. Seek urgent medical assistance. Try to catch the spider or take a photograph, so that the right treatment can be given, and be careful not to get bitten yourself.
Developed by The Royal Children's Hospital General Medicine department and Centre for Community Child Health, in collaboration with Child and Youth Health Services Adelaide. We acknowledge the input of RCH consumers and carers.
Reviewed March 2018.
Kids Health Info is supported by The Royal Children’s Hospital Foundation. To donate, visit www.rchfoundation.org.au.
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. Information contained in the handouts is updated regularly and therefore you should always check you are referring to the most recent version of the handout. The onus is on you, the user, to ensure that you have downloaded the most up-to-date version of a consumer health information handout.