Summer Family Moments

Bug Bites and Kids: When to Worry and What to Do

Health Check 11

bug bitesAll it took was one bug bite, and my daughter's ear looked like she'd been in a boxing match.

Ever heard the term cauliflower ear? That's what she had -- bright red, swollen, and sore to the touch.

Insect bites can you leave you wondering whether you need to take your kids to the hospital or if they are developing an allergy, so The Stir checked with Dr. Leslie Barakat, a pediatrician with Cigna Medical Group, to find out when we should bug out.

Why should parents be worried about bug bites in the summer?

In general, most insect bites and stings are harmless and do not cause any significant illness. Most treatment is centered around managing the discomfort associated with insect bites.

In very rare instances, children can exhibit an allergic reaction to certain insect bites and stings, and these necessitate prompt intervention. Many parents are concerned about the risk of contracting West Nile Virus with mosquito bites, but healthy kids, teens, and adults under 50 are at very low risk of catching this virus.  

And although West Nile Virus can put people at risk for developing a serious infection of the brain called encephalitis, in reality this hardly ever happens. Less than 1 percent of people who are infected with WNV become seriously ill.

What's the best prevention?

In general, we should teach our children to take precautions such as avoiding walking barefoot while on grass, playing in areas where insects nest, breed, or congregate such as bodies of water or areas with tall grass, and drinking from soda cans outside. Try to stay inside when bugs are most active (dawn and dusk), and wear insect repellent or cover up when you are outside.

Repellents that contain 10 to 30 percent DEET (N, N-diethyl-meta-toluamode) are approved and considered safe for children over 2 months of age to prevent bites from mosquitoes, ticks, and other bugs.

Repellents that contain picardin (KBR 3023) or oil of lemon eucalyptus (p-menthane 3,8-diol or PMD) are effective against mosquitoes. Follow the instructions on the product carefully and do not overuse. Replace after swimming or eating.

How do we treat after the bite?

For treatment of the redness and swelling associated with insect bites, immediate gentle cleansing of the area and cool compresses are the initial first actions recommended.  

Parents can give antihistamines such as Benadryl or long-acting ones like Claritin or Zyrtec to offer some relief while the reaction to the bites is resolving.

What are the signs that we need to seek treatment for our kids?

  • In general, parents should seek medical care if the sting or bite is inside or near the mouth, if the child has a known history of severe reaction to a stinging or biting insect.
  • If they are having a severe reaction, such as swelling of the face or mouth, difficulty swallowing or speaking, chest tightness, wheezing, or difficulty breathing, or dizziness or fainting, parents should call 911 immediately and administer an Epinephrine pen if they have been prescribed one by their pediatrician.
  • Parents should also seek medical attention for any insect bite or sting if the site looks infected, meaning that there is increasing redness, warmth, swelling, pain, or pus occurring several hours or longer after the sting or bites.  
  • Redness and swelling right after the bite is a typical reaction and does not necessitate seeking medical attention.

Are there any bites that are worse than others?

In general, the stinging insects pose more of a risk of allergic reaction than the biting insects, but again, not everyone is allergic to wasps, bees, or hornets, so local care is recommended for these and in most cases is adequate.

Tick bites can pose a small risk for contracting tick-borne illnesses such as Lyme Disease and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. So it's important to remove the tick carefully with tweezers as soon as possible and save it for the physician to test.

Most spider bites cause local discomfort and are not dangerous. However, spiders such as black widows and brown recluse spiders are venomous and can cause severe illness, so if a parent suspects their child has been bitten by one of these, they should seek immediate medical attention.

If kids swell up, does that mean they have an allergy?

Most children will have some degree of local swelling after an insect bite or sting, and this does not mean they have an allergy to that insect.  

It's common for the saliva of the insect to cause irritation under the skin, which causes the bump and itching.

The signs of severe reaction mentioned, including facial or mouth swelling, difficulty breathing or swallowing, confusion, or dizziness, are more indicative of a true allergy.

Check out tips for keeping the mosquitoes at bay if you're an adult and tell us, are your kids being bitten this summer?


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Cafe... Cafe Suzanne

We live in bugville so this is great. Thanks.

Carey... Carey2006

Ya...we do's horrible! Benadryl is MY friend! About a year ago I had heard of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever because of what it did to a child....very sad!

sodapple sodapple

so far no, we did live in a place where mosquitoes were everywhere, now we are far from them.... i hope.

tazdvl tazdvl

My youngest was just bitten by a mosquito last night. 

ethan... ethans_momma06

Ugh... this topic is so scary!! I hate bug bites and stings!

Nicole Stacey Spear

My 15 month old son was recently diagnosed with a severe allergy to mosquitos.. to me and everyone else it looked just like Lyme disease spots.. but his ped insisted that if it was Lyme and he had 18 spots I would have seen him get bit by 18 ticks.. and the spots only occur where the bite was.. so after a round of perscription strength steroids and zyrtec for a WEEK.. the spots are still there.. some have vanished leaving a bruising effect while others are still quit visible but the raised welt is gone .. Any suggestions? (Stevensville, MI)

cocoa... cocoandrico

Aloe Vera applied to the bite is very soothing and anti-inflammatory, reducing the urge to SCRATCH and risk infection. It's also antibacterial and dries to form a protective barrier, speeding the healing process. Store it in the fridge and it feels even better. For instructions for how to use the leaves of the plant and how concoct a spray with aloe at home, check out:

nonmember avatar LamuzNick

Bravo, this magnificent phrase is necessary just by the way

coppe... copperswifey

Thank you for the great tips! :)

Jennifer Stokes-Rhoton

My 4yr old was bitten multiple times by mosquitos. her eyes were nearly swollen shut. Her hand was swollen twice the normal size,the bend of her arm, and her leg was swollen. She did not have confusion, wheezing or any other symptoms of anaphylactic shock. she received an antihistamine and liquid steroids. It took days for the swelling to go down. It helps to ease the itching with anti-itch spray and Aveeno oatmeal baths and lotion. I clipped her nails to keep her from scratching. The itching seemed to cause the most discomfort. Good luck and deepest sympathy if child experiences this.

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