Bee & Wasp Stings: How to Treat Them in Kids

One of my earliest (but definitely not fondest) childhood memories occurred at age 4 when a bee whizzed by and stung me on the face. Granted, I'd swatted at it first, so I guess I had it coming to me. Needless to say, bee and wasp stings can be terrifying for kids, and many parents don't know the right way to treat them. Here's how to minimize the damage:

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Remove the stinger as quickly as possible. If the stinger is still impaled in the skin (which typically happens with bees but not wasps), get it out pronto. The reason: It contains a sac that's still pumping in venom; studies have shown that even a delay of a few seconds allows more to seep into the tissue. "Some advocate using the edge of a credit card to gently scrape the stinger off, as this might perhaps decrease the likelihood of unintentionally squeezing more venom into the sting," says Jorge Parada, MD, professor of infectious diseases at Loyola University and medical advisor for the National Pest Management Association. "Tweezers are also a good tool."

Clean the area with soap and water, then apply ice. A cold compress or ice pack will not only minimize swelling, but constrict blood vessels under the skin, stemming the spread of the venom. "If the sting is on an extremity, it is also helpful to elevate the limb," adds Parada.

Bring in stronger treatments if necessary. Bee stings typically don't itch, but they can be very painful. To ease a child's discomfort, you can give him an age-appropriate dose of Tylenol. For children over the age of 2, over-the-counter topical steroids like hydrocortisone cream can also be rubbed on the sting to further reduce swelling, but check with your doctor if you have any concerns first and take care to use it sparingly. "In a young child whose skin is thinner and absorbs things more readily, topical steroids can have the effect of taking high-dose steroids, and you don't want to use them lightly," warns Parada. "That said, for a bee sting, it's not a big issue, since you're applying the cream to a small area. I think it posts relatively little risk. It's not like you're covering 20 mosquito bites. One caveat is you should make sure the area is well washed and clean, since steroids increase the risk of infection."

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Keep an eye on the size. "Most bee stings will give you a welt of one to four inches," explains Parada. "But if it starts going beyond that, or it's smaller and you start to notice other symptoms in your child -- itching all over the body, wheezing, hives unrelated to the sting, lightheadedness -- you should go to the ER as quickly as possible." Everyone feels and reacts differently to bee stings: For some, the welt will subside in a couple of hours. "Others are superbly allergic to bee venom and even the most minor of stings will set off a life-threatening reaction," says Parada. If your child falls into the latter category, you should take special precautions, like carrying an EpiPen.

And remember -- unlike mosquitoes, bees and wasps typically won't bother you unless you bug them, so encourage your kids to leave them well enough alone.

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Image via Pierre Fridel/Flickr; ©iStock.com/akiyoko 

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