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  • Writer's pictureDr Andy Raffles

Ouch! - Stings, Bites & Your Child

The majority of bites and stings in children are not serious and are self-limiting, resolving after a few hours or days without the need to see a Doctor. Sometimes however they can become infected and need antibiotic treatment or there may be a local allergic reaction, with redness and blistering and intense itchiness. Much less commonly some bee or wasp stings may cause a severe allergic reaction known as anaphylaxis. Lyme disease, Malaria and Dengue are illnesses which are associated with mosquito or tick bites

Wasps, hornets, bees, horseflies, mosquitoes, fleas, spiders and ticks are common offenders.

If your child is bitten or stung, this will often cause a red and swollen lump to appear on the skin. This may be painful and itchy. The majority of these symptoms improve quickly and within a few hours or days but sometimes will be present for a little longer.

Some children will have a mild allergic reaction with a larger area of the skin around the sting or bite becoming red, swollen and painful but resolve within a week, providing it doesn't become infected.

Very rarely, a child may develop a severe allergic reaction, causing additional symptoms such as breathing difficulties or wheezing, swollen face, throat or mouth, difficulty swallowing, a fast heart rate, feeling sick and faint or dizziness. If any of these symptoms occur, you should seek medical advice immediately.

What to do if your child has been stung or bitten:

  • If the sting or tick is still in the skin, try to remove - If you pull it straight out you could squeeze more poison in - you have to gently try to slide the sting back out of the skin. This is particularly for bee stings. Ticks should be removed with tweezers and don't worry if some of the mouth parts get left behind!

  • Wash the area gently with soap and water

  • Apply a cold compress such as a wet cold flannel or an ice-pack through material (to prevent freezing the skin) for at least 10 minutes

  • Keeping the affected area raised, i.e. elevating the arm or leg may help reduce the swelling

  • Try to stop your child scratching as this will reduce the risk of infection

  • Use of age appropriate antihistamine medication, applications of ammonia available in pens, and low strength steroid creams available over the counter at your local pharmacy, should also help make your child more comfortable and if needed, pain relief, such as Paracetamol – always check with your pharmacist that it is safe for your child’s age, before giving combination of medications. If out in the wilds apply bicarbonate of soda (baking powder) mixed to a paste with water for a bee sting and drip vinegar onto a wasp sting - both these remedies relieve the sting! If you are not sure which it was try both - one after the other! Similarly the vinegar works with jellyfish stings!

If the sting is in the mouth or throat, you should contact the emergency services immediately by calling 999. If known to have allergies and you have an EpiPen (adrenaline pen) use it as instructed if the child develops breathing difficulties.

Simple Tips to Avoid Bites and Stings

Encourage your child to remain still and calm if a buzzy insect flies near them, even if it lands on them it is unlikely to sting unless they try to hit it. (Remember your child will likely follow your lead, so you must also try not to panic!)

  • Wearing shoes when outside will also reduce the risk of injury if stepped on

  • Check the grass where your child sits, making sure there are no ant nests

  • Wear long sleeved tops and long trousers when visiting the woods or wet grasslands

  • Use insect repellents, in particular when abroad, near water where mosquitos are more likely

  • Always check drink containers when outside to ensure a wasp or bee has not flown in

  • Get specialist help to remove wasp or bees nests

  • Around the house be aware of spiders, as some can bite and cause skin irritation, even in the UK

  • If your child is itchy when in bed check for bedbugs and spiders

  • If you have a pet, make sure they are on anti-flea treatment and remember fleas can quickly and easily infest your home

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