What to do if your child is bitten or stung

By Dorothy Lepkowska

It’s the time of year for wasps, bees and insects and with summer holidays approaching, we need to think about how to protect ourselves against bites and stings.

Insect stings are common and are usually nothing to worry about, though some may be painful and itchy.

Protecting your child from being bitten

Prevention is better than cure, so there are a few things you can do to protect yourself and your child.

Experts recommend insect repellents but check on the packaging to ensure they are suitable for children. Some of the most effective ones contact a chemical called DEET (diethyltoluamide) but they may be too strong for a child’s skin so check before applying.

You should cover exposed skin in the morning and evening when insects are most active, and never disturb insect nests. Insects tend to be most prolific in the countryside or near water, such as rivers and lakes. Of course, you can take every possible precaution and still be bitten but don’t take unnecessary risks.

How to deal with tick bites

One of the most serious causes of infection in the UK and abroad is found in ticks, which are present in many woodland and heath areas. Some ticks carry the bacteria that causes Lyme Disease, which can result in serious long-term health problems, including chronic fatigue syndrome.

A tick bite creates a circular rash and is quite distinctive. If you find a tick on your or your child's skin, remove it using a pair of tweezers that won't squash the tick. Ticks removal kits are also available in pet shops or vets. Gently grip the tick as close to the skin as possible and pull steadily away from the skin without crushing it.

Wash your skin with water and soap afterwards, then apply an antiseptic cream to the skin around the bite. Take your child to a doctor if they feel unwell after a tick bite as they may need antibiotics.

Treating bites and stings

Generally speaking bites and stings will become red, swollen or a raised mark will appear and this can last for several days. Bumps like this often become itchy and it can be difficult to stop a child from scratching it and making it worse.

If your child is stung try to remove the sting if you can by scraping or flicking it off with a hard edge, such as a bank card. Grabbing it with fingers or tweezers can squeeze the venom into the skin and make it worse.

Experts advise relieving swelling and itching with an ice pack or a cold compress.

If your child is in pain infant paracetamol or ibuprofen can help, but check the dosage to make sure it’s right for your child’s age and weight.

If the bite or sting is particularly bad a doctor or pharmacist may suggest crotamiton or corticosteroid cream, or an antihistamine. However, these should not be applied to broken skin.

If the bite or sting is on the face, you should seek medical advice as any reaction could be more severe.

In some cases, bites can become infected because of scratching, and the skin breaking and bacteria getting in, which can cause a child to develop a fever. Swelling, sores and red streaks on the affected area of the skin are all signs of infection. If you think your child has an infection you should take him or her to doctor, who may prescribe antibiotics.

Dealing with bad reactions to insect bites

The NHS advises that if the symptoms of a bite or sting don’t improve within a couple of days you should see a doctor, and similarly if you’re worried about how a wound looks or feels.

If there is pus on the wound, or your child has swollen glands or flu-like symptoms, or swelling or redness is spreading, then you should also seek medical help. Your child may need antibiotics, or a referral to an allergy specialist.

Occasionally, children may have a very severe reaction to a bit or sting, causing symptoms such as vomiting, breathing problems faintness, sweating or a rapid pulse. This is known as anaphylaxis and can be life-threatening. You must seek medical treatment immediately.

If you’re planning a holiday abroad, ensure you speak to a doctor before you go as you may need vaccinations, depending on your destination. In some countries, mosquitoes carry serious diseases such as malaria and yellow fever, so make sure you’re protected.

Visit the NHS website for further information on treating bites.

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