“Mom, the bee bit me and it’s infected!”
There are a few problems with the above statement. Firstly, some insects “bite” and some insects “sting”. Bees, hornets, wasps all sting, which means they inject venom into your skin through a specialized organ on their body. They don’t really bite humans. Also, the venom they inject causes a localized inflammatory reaction, usually redness, swelling and pain. The area they sting is not instantly infected, although sometimes with scratching we, the “bitten”, can cause that to happen. The only upside is that insect stings are more painful than itchy, so less likely to be scratched into an infection.
Other insects do bite, like flies, ants or spiders. A mosquito doesn’t bite so much as push its needle-like mouth through your skin and sucks a little blood. Yes, like vampires. Bites also cause a localized inflammatory reaction; redness, swelling and itching. Oh, the itching.
Remember everyone reacts a little differently to insect stings or bites. A bad inflammatory reaction doesn’t necessary mean you are “allergic” to bug bites. If you have a more generalized reaction, such as hives on other parts of your body besides the bite site, you may in fact be allergic. If you have any breathing difficulty after an encounter with an insect, don’t hesitate, call 911! It doesn’t matter if you have been stung before without a major reaction; it may take multiple stings over time to develop a severe allergy.
First aid for insect bites or stings:
- Ice, Ice, Baby – decrease that inflammation as quickly as possible. Use an ice pack on the affected area; it numbs the pain or itching and decreases redness and swelling. Use the ice a few minutes on, a few minutes off. You don’t want to end up with a new problem with your treatment. Too much cold can cause frostbite. Even in summer. I’ve seen it happen!
- Take an anti-inflammatory – Ibuprofen (Advil or Motrin) should be dosed appropriately for your child, given every 6-8 hours as needed. Acetaminophen helps with pain but does nothing for the redness and swelling.
- Don’t scratch that itch! – Scratching causes more inflammation and can introduce infection. You are better off using an ice pack to the area if it is itchy, again on and off, to numb the itch. Or a topical anti-itch lotion, like caladryl clear. (If you prefer the pink stuff, that’s okay too … but then you have pink spots!) Over the counter hydrocortisone creams may work as well, but they take longer to take effect and if overused, can cause thinning or discoloration of the skin.
- When in doubt, check it out! – If you’re not sure, then get it checked. Especially if you there is a chance that there might be the potential for a severe anaphylactic reaction. If after 24 hours of treatment, an insect wound is getting worse and worse (redness, swelling, pus, warmth to the area or fever) then you should seek the attention of a medical professional. If it is slowly getting better, it’s okay to watch and wait. Some insect bites take many days to improve.
- Grandma might not know best – Many home remedies for stings might not be effective, or might in fact be detrimental. If you’re not sure, consult with a medical professional.
- Only you can prevent insect bites or stings! – Try to avoid the times when insects are most active, at dawn or at dusk. Use an insect spray with DEET. Please note: insect sprays are not recommended for babies less than two (2) months of age. If your baby is too young for insect sprays and you have to be outside with them, consider using mosquito netting in a safe manner.
Kevin Benson, M.D., Board Certified in Pediatrics who specializes in:
- Comprehensive Pediatric Care
- Care From Birth to age 18 (Newborns/Infants/Toddlers/Adolescents)
- Allergy & Asthma Care Referrals
- School, Sports, Camp Physicals
- Sick Child Visits
- Routine Wellness Exams
- Health Education
MCH Family Health Clinic 6030 West University Odessa, TX 79764
Office Hours: Monday – Friday: 8:30 am – 5:30 pm
Same Day Appointments Available Call (432) 640-6600 for more information or to make an appointment.