If you've ever played outside, chances are you've been bugged by insects or other crawly creatures. Maybe unwelcome ants joined you at a picnic in the park or a bee buzzed around your head while you were playing catch. None of this may have bothered you — unless you were bitten or stung. Ouch! It's enough to make you stay indoors. But the outdoors can still be a great place to play if you know a little bit more about insects.
Why Do Bugs Bite or Sting?
Insects and other creatures like bees, wasps, spiders, scorpions, and hornets usually attack when they feel like they're in danger. Sometimes they are protecting their territory, web, or nest. Other insects such as mosquitoes and ticks suck blood in order to survive. The female mosquito needs blood so that she can lay her eggs. (The male mosquito does not bite at all!)
Ticks are parasites, which means they live on other animals and need to suck blood to live.
What Are Bug Bites and Stings?
Insects and other bugs can inject venom (say: veh-num) into your skin when they bite or sting you. Usually, venom is like soap in your eyes — it doesn't really hurt you, but it's not very comfortable. It will make a small, itchy bump no bigger than a pea form on your skin. When you scratch, your skin becomes red and more itchy. A tick bite can cause a red rash that looks a little like a bull's-eye (this may take as long as a week). In the case of bee stings, the area becomes swollen and a stinger might be left in the skin.
Does It Hurt?
In most cases bug bites are not serious and only hurt for a little while. The itching is the most irritating part of most bites and stings. Some bites or stings, such as a bite from a scorpion or a black widow spider, may require a trip to the emergency department. But this doesn't happen very often. An adult will know whether this trip is necessary.
What Should You Do?
If anything bites or stings you, make sure you let an adult know. He or she will look at the bite or sting to see what needs to be done.
If a mosquito bites you, try not to scratch. It's hard sometimes, but scratching will make the itch worse and can cause the bite to swell, bleed, or get infected.
If you are stung by a bee, an adult can help you get the stinger out quickly. Have an adult wash the area with soap and water, and apply ice to the sting on and off for the first 24 hours. An antihistamine, which is a type of medicine, can help stop the itching, pain, and swelling. Acetaminophen can also help stop the sting from hurting. Hydrocortisone creams and calamine lotions can be helpful to take away the itch. An adult will decide what medicine is best for you.
If you find a tick on you, don't try to remove it yourself. Get an adult to help you. He or she will grab the tick with tweezers as close to your skin as possible and pull it off in one smooth motion. Once the tick is removed, put it in a jar of alcohol to kill it. Don't try to crush it in your hands. Your doctor may want to see this tick later.
When to Get Help
Some people have an allergic (say: uh-ler-jik) reaction to the venom that certain insects, such as bees, inject. If you have trouble breathing, break out in hives (hives are red bumps that show up on your skin), or feel like you are going to throw up after a bee or wasp has stung you, you could be having an allergic reaction. Tell an adult right away so that you can go the emergency department.
Once you know you are allergic to bee stings, your doctor will provide you with a special kit. The kit is called an epinephrine kit and will contain a shot of epinephrine (say: eh-pih-neh-frin). You will need this shot if a bee stings you. You should keep this kit with you at all times, especially when you are outside. Make sure an adult is close by to give you the shot if you need it.
Stopping the Stinging
You can keep from getting stung by staying away from bee or wasp nests. Keep sweet-smelling food or drink covered when you are eating outdoors. And don't swat at flying insects — it just makes them angry, causing them to bite or sting.
If you go hiking, wear a long-sleeved shirt and pants tucked into your socks and shoes to avoid ticks. And always have an adult check you for ticks if you've been playing in the woods.
The best way to avoid being bitten by spiders or scorpions is to avoid places where they like to make their homes, like woodpiles.
Playing outside is a lot of fun — bugs or no bugs. With a little bit of care, you can have fun even when the insects come marching in!
Reviewed: Elana Pearl Ben-Joseph, MD
Date reviewed: September 2007
Originally reviewed by: Ellen Kempf, MD