How to Treat Insect Bites

By Santi Budiasih, MD March 29, 2017

While most children have mild reactions, those who are allergic to certain insect venoms can have severe reactions that require emergency care.

Learn how to treat insect bites and stings.Your child’s reaction to a bite or sting will depend on his or her sensitivity to that particular insect’s venom. While most children only have mild reactions, those who are allergic to certain insect venoms can have severe symptoms that require emergency treatment.

In general bites are usually not a serious problem, but in some cases, stings may be. While it is true that most stings (from yellow jackets, wasps and fire ants, for example) may cause pain and localized swelling, severe hypersensitive reactions are possible, although uncommon.

Insect Bite & Sting Treatment

Although insect bites can be irritating, they usually begin to disappear by the next day and do not require a doctor’s treatment. To relieve the itchiness that accompanies mosquito, fly, flea and bedbug bites, apply a cool compress and/or calamine lotion freely on any part of your child’s body except the areas around the eyes and genitals. If your child is stung by a wasp or bee, soak a cloth in cold water and press it over the area of the sting to reduce pain and swelling. Call your pediatrician before using any other treatment, including creams or lotions that contain antihistamines or home remedies. If the itching is severe, the doctor may prescribe oral antihistamines.

If your child disturbs a beehive, get him or her away from it as quickly as possible. The base of a honeybee’s stinger emits an alarm pheromone (hormone) that makes other bees more likely to sting as well.

It is very important to remove a bee stinger quickly and completely from the skin. The quick removal of a bee stinger will prevent a large amount of venom from being pumped into the skin. If the stinger is visible, remove it by gently scraping it off horizontally with a credit card or your fingernail. Avoid squeezing the stinger with a pair of tweezers; doing this may release more venom into the skin. The skin may be more swollen on the second or third day after a bee sting or mosquito bite.

Keep your child’s fingernails short and clean to minimize the risk of infection from scratching. If infection does occur, the bite will become redder, larger and more swollen. You may notice red streaks or yellowish fluid near the bite, or in some cases, your child may get a fever. Have your pediatrician examine any infected bite right away because it may need to be treated with antibiotics.

When to Call for Help 

Call for medical help immediately if your child has any of these other symptoms after being bitten or stung, such as:

  • Sudden difficulty in breathing
  • Weakness, collapse or unconsciousness
  • Hives or itching all over the body
  • Extreme swelling near the eyes, lips or penis that makes it difficult for the child to see, eat or urinate