First Aid Tips for Bug Bites and Bee Stings

This content has been clinically reviewed by Tracy Nailor, MD.

Ouch! As the weather heats up, kids head outside to play, upping their chances of painful bug bites and bee stings. While most bites and stings are more annoying than dangerous, some can, in rare cases, cause an allergic reaction that requires immediate medical attention.

Signs of a mild reaction include:

  • Redness
  • Local swelling
  • Mild itching
  • Warmth at the site of the bite

Signs of a severe reaction that requires medical attention right away include:  

  • Swelling of the face or mouth
  • Difficulty swallowing or speaking
  • Scratchy or itchy throat
  • Chest tightness, wheezing or trouble breathing
  • Dizziness, fainting or confusion
  • Nausea, vomiting or belly cramping
  • Hives that are rapidly spreading over the body

You can prevent bites and stings by:

  • Leaving bugs alone. Remind your child to stay away from ant hills, bee hives, wasp nests and wood piles.
  • Checking around your home for buckets, pots, bird baths, old tires that could have standing water (a breeding ground for mosquitoes).
  • Using bug spray containing 20 to 30 percent DEET when headed outdoors. Apply bug spray AFTER sunscreen.
  • Wearing protective clothing like hat, long sleeves, long pants and closed shoes when headed to wooded areas especially or whenever there is a possibility of increased exposure to insects.
  • Being careful while eating outside. Bugs love food.
  • If your child has a severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis), ask your pediatrician about prescribing emergency epinephrine (Epi-Pen).

If your child’s outdoor play does get sidelined by a bite or sting, these first-aid tips can help.

Mosquito Bites

When the weather heats up, mosquitoes are everywhere, especially near water. Mosquito bites leave a small, itchy mound with a tiny puncture mark at the center.  They're usually harmless, but in rare cases they can transmit diseases such as West Nile Virus. In healthy kids, only mild symptoms occur. West Nile is more serious in older people or people with suppressed immune systems.

First aid at home

  • To reduce itching, make a paste out of baking soda, or apply calamine lotion.
  • If the bite is still itchy, apply an anti-itch medication that contains hydrocortisone.
  • An allergy medicine like Benadryl may also help. 

If you suspect the bite is infected

  • Wash and use an antibiotic ointment like Polysporin.
  • Cover the scab with a Band-Aid.
  • Call your doctor if the bite looks infected and gets larger after 48 hours.

Spider Bites

Most of the spiders found in the United States are harmless. Typically, a spider bite leaves a red, inflamed bump on the skin that can be treated at home by washing the area with soap and water and applying an antibiotic ointment to avoid infection.

But if you suspect that your child has been bitten by a brown recluse or black widow spider—even if the child is not showing symptoms—take him to a hospital emergency department, or call 911 immediately. These spiders are poisonous.

Brown recluse spider

  • A brown recluse spider is brown with a small shape like a violin on its back.
  • It is found mostly in the southern and western parts of the country.
  • These spiders like to hide in dark, quiet places like attics or garages, under porches and in woodpiles.
  • Brown recluse bites don’t usually hurt at first, and a child might not even be aware of a bite.
  • In some cases, a child will develop chills, fever, rash, pain and nausea.
  • More serious symptoms include seizures and coma.

Black widow spider

  • A black widow spider has a shiny black body with an orange-red hourglass shape on the underbelly.
  • They’re found throughout North America.
  • Symptoms include painful cramping that occurs within a few hours of a bite that start at the bite area and spread.
  • Bites may also cause nausea, excessive sweating, vomiting, chills, fever, headache and muscle aches. 

Bee, Wasp, Hornet and Yellow Jacket Stings

If your child gets stung by a bee or wasp (which includes hornets and yellow jackets), you can expect some tears. These stings are painful. They can also cause itching, swelling and redness at the site.

If the stinging culprit was a honeybee, you’ll also usually find a stinger left behind in your child’s skin. The stinger is attached to a venom sac and continues to pump out venom as long as it’s lodged in the skin. Try to remove this as quickly as possible using a scraping motion.

Wasps don’t leave a stinger in the skin after stinging, but that means they can sting more than once and often do. 

First aid at home

  • Apply an ice pack or a cold, wet washcloth for a few minutes to reduce pain.
  • Give acetaminophen or ibuprofen for pain.
  • For itching, give an antihistamine such as Benadryl.
  • Expect swelling and redness for up to 48 hours after a sting.  Don’t be alarmed if the swelling is much greater 12 to 24 hours after the initial bite occurs.
  • Wash the area with soap and water three times a day to prevent infection (rare) until healed.

Allergic reactions

If your child has never been stung before, it is unlikely he will have an allergic reaction. But allergies can develop when the child is stung a second time, or even later. Bee and wasp stings can sometimes result in a life-threatening allergic reaction called anaphylaxis.

If your child has any of the following symptoms after a sting, take him to a hospital emergency department or call 911 immediately:

  • Hives (raised, reddish, itchy skin welts that can occur all over the body)
  • Swelling of the mouth, throat or tongue (your child may say, “My tongue feels fat” or “my throat feels funny”)
  • Trouble breathing or swallowing
  • Throat tightness
  • Wheezing, coughing or hoarseness
  • Stomachache, vomiting or diarrhea
  • Dizziness, weakness or confusion

Tick Bites

Ticks are brown or black, eight-legged creatures that range from the size of a poppy seed to the size of a small grape when engorged with blood. They can transmit serious bacterial infections to people through their bites, and unfortunately, tick-borne diseases are on the rise.

Ticks often lurk in tall grass, thick brush and wooded areas, and they’re most active in the spring and summer, between April and September. They latch on to the skin and suck blood until they get full then fall off.

If your kids like to play in the grass or woods, it’s important to check them for ticks at the end of the day. If you find a tick, remove it immediately. Ticks that are removed within 24 to 48 hours are less likely to transmit diseases like Rocky Mountain spotted fever and Lyme disease.

If you find a tick on your child

  • Use tweezers to firmly grasp the tick at its head or mouth, next to the skin.
  • Pull firmly and steadily upward on the tick until it lets go.
  • Don’t twist or jerk the tick, to avoid breaking it and leaving its mouthparts in the skin.
  • Swab the site with alcohol.
  • DO NOT use petroleum jelly or a lit match to kill and remove the tick. These things may cause the tick to burrow deeper and release more saliva, increasing the chances of disease transmission.
  • Call your pediatrician, who may want you to save the tick in a sealed container for identification later.

Symptoms of a tick disease typically develop within one to two weeks of a tick bite

Call your pediatrician if your child develops:

  • Flu-like symptoms such as a fever, headache, fatigue, vomiting and muscle aches
  • A rash made up of a red bump surrounded by area of spreading redness that looks like a bull’s eye (Lyme disease)
  • Red dots on the ankles and wrists (Rocky Mountain spotted fever)


Fire Ant Bites

Fire ants are reddish colored ants common in the southern parts of the United States. They live in mounds of dirt on the ground up to 18 inches high that are often located near patios and driveways. Fire ants are very aggressive, so teach your child to avoid them.

Fire ant stings cause pain and a burning sensation that lasts about 10 minutes. If your child is stung by a fire ant, you’ll see a hive-like bump with a raised white center at the sting site after about 30 minutes. These bumps turn into itchy pimples with yellow fluid within 24 hours.

Fire ants can leave multiple stings, but they can be treated at home by washing the site of the stings with soap and water, and following the same first-aid tips for mosquito bites. 

Allergic reactions

Some children can have a life-threatening allergic reaction to fire ant stings called anaphylaxis. Call 911 or take your child to the emergency department immediately if you think your child is allergic.

The main symptoms are hives and trouble breathing within three hours of the sting. Also look for sweating, nausea and intense itching.

In addition, you should call your child’s doctor if he:

  • Is stung inside the mouth or in the eye.
  • Is younger than 1 and has more than 20 stings.
  • Is a newborn with five or more stings.

Chigger Bites

Chiggers are tiny red biting mites that are smaller than the period on this sentence. They live in fields, forests and even your lawn, where they attach to people as they pass by. Their bites aren’t painful and don’t cause diseases like tick bites, but they do cause intense itching.

If your child has chigger bites, you’ll find red bumps that look like blisters or small red hives on his skin. They get bigger and itchier over several days and often appear in clusters around the waist, ankles or any warm skin folds (even under clothing). Boys can get chigger bites on the genitals that can cause swelling and painful urination.

First aid at home

  • Wash chigger bites vigorously with soap and water to help remove any chiggers that are still attached to the skin.
  • Treat them like mosquito bites, with calamine or anti-itching lotion.

Scorpion Bite

Most scorpions found in the United States are not considered dangerous. The most dangerous scorpion, called the bark scorpion, is found mainly in the Southwest.

However, it’s hard to tell a dangerous scorpion from one that is harmless. And while adults may weather most scorpion stings without treatment, children can be more severely affected. All scorpion stings should be treated by an emergency department doctor.

If your child is stung by a scorpion, try to capture it and bring it with you to the hospital for identification. Never touch a scorpion with your bare hands. Trap it with a jar, or use tongs to pick it up. You can drop it into scalding water to kill it.

All scorpion stings are quite painful. Your child may also experience swelling, numbness and tingling at the sting site.

First aid at home

  • Wash the area with soap and water.
  • Apply a cold compress on the sting to reduce swelling.
  • Take your child to the emergency department as soon as possible.
This content is general information and is not specific medical advice. Always consult with a doctor or healthcare provider if you have any questions or concerns about the health of a child. In case of an urgent concern or emergency, call 911 or go to the nearest emergency department right away. Some physicians and affiliated healthcare professionals on Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta team are independent providers and are not our employees.