Health Library

Insect Stings and Bites

Insect Stings and Bites

There are several common stinging and biting insects that may make your child itchy and cause a bumpy rash. Insect stings and bites are seen more often in warmer weather during spring, summer and fall.

  • Bees
  • Wasps
  • Hornets
  • Yellow jackets
  • Fire ants
  • Mosquitos
  • Fleas
  • Bed bugs
  • Chiggers

Signs of an Allergic Reaction

Very itchy and painful bumps, blisters and nodules develop. Bug bites often appear predominantly on exposed skin areas such as the face, arms and legs.

Generally, the reaction lasts only a few hours, although some may last longer.

For others, however, allergic reactions to these insect stings can be life-threatening. This severe reaction is a medical emergency that can involve organ systems throughout the body. The reaction is called anaphylaxis, or anaphylactic shock, and can include severe symptoms such as:

  • Itching and hives over most of the body
  • Swelling of the throat and tongue
  • Difficulty in breathing
  • Dizziness
  • Headache
  • Stomach cramps, nausea or diarrhea
  • Rapid drop in blood pressure
  • Shock
  • Loss of consciousness

Immediate medical attention is required.  

Preventing Insect Stings

Avoidance of insects is the best preventive measure against stings and bites. Suggestions for helping your child include:  

  • Avoid wooded areas and areas with standing water, especially at dusk and dawn. 
  • When outside, use netting or mesh screens over strollers.  
  • Do not use lotions or products containing perfumes.  
  • Avoid dressing your child in bright colors or flower print clothes. 
  • Keep your child covered with long-sleeved shirts and long pants if possible. 


Use topical insect repellents containing DEET when outside. DEET is the most effective product that repels mosquitos, biting flies, chiggers, fleas and ticks. Examples of products that contain DEET: 

  • OFF Skintastic for Children
  • OFF Deep Woods DEET
  • Sawyer Controlled-Release DEET  

Proper Use of DEET Products

  • Apply a small amount of DEET on exposed skin; do not use under clothing.
  • Do not apply more than once a day.
  • Do not use DEET on the hands of young children.
  • Avoid applying to areas around the eyes and mouth.
  • Do not use DEET over cuts, wounds or irritated skin.
  • Wash treated skin with soap and water after returning indoors.  Wash treated clothing.
  • Avoid spraying DEET products in enclosed areas. Do not use DEET near food.
  • DEET should not be used in children less than 2 months of age. 

The maximum concentration of DEET recommended for use in children is 30 percent; this provides approximately eight hours of protection. Products containing 10 percent DEET provide about two hours of protection. 

You should not use products containing both an insect repellent and a sunscreen. Sunscreen needs to be applied more often than insect repellent. Apply the sunscreen separately! 

You may try topical products containing other chemicals, such as picaridin (found in Cutter Advanced and Natrapel products), but they are thought to be less effective than DEET. Other products include Avon SkinSoSoft, Bug Guard Plus and OFF Botanical. Products containing citronella are the least effective. 


You may use 0.5 percent permethrin spray products to treat clothing. Permethrin is effective against ticks, ants, biting flies, fleas, chiggers and mosquitos. Products include Sawyer’s Permethrin Clothing Repellent and Sawyer’s Clothing Insect Repellent.  

Proper Use of Permethrin Products

  • Do not apply directly to the skin.
  • Do not apply more than once every two weeks.
  • Apply to clothing before getting dressed.
  • You may treat netting, hats, sleeping bags and other items.
  • Effectiveness lasts through six washes. 

You may need to call a professional exterminator if you think there are fleas or bedbugs in your home.

Treatment for Allergic Reactions

Specific treatment for insect stings will be determined by your child's physician based on:

  • Your child's age, overall health and medical history
  • Extent of the reaction
  • Your child's tolerance for specific medications, procedures or therapies
  • Expectations for the course of the reaction
  • Your opinion or preference

Suggestions for immediate treatment for highly allergic children, according to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology, include:

  • When possible, immediately remove the stinger and scrape over the area with a fingernail. However, do not squeeze the area, which may force the venom into the body.
  • An emergency treatment kit should be kept nearby at all times. Consult your child's physician about what it should include.
  • Seek emergency care for your child as soon as possible.

Contact Us

Call your doctor if any areas develop significant pain, swelling or pus, which may indicate an infection.

Last Updated 10/2015

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