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Summer Bites and Stings

How to manage summer itches and ouches — and when to get help

If your family enjoys being outside during the summer months, chances are you’ve been bugged by insects or other crawly creatures. Bug bites and insect stings, for the most part, are just nuisances and have no serious or lasting health problems. Occasionally, though, an insect bite or sting can cause serious problems.

“The greatest risk from most insect stings and bites is an allergic reaction, which can be serious but rarely fatal,” says Kate Cronan, MD, medical editor for KidsHealth, based in Wilmington, DE. “Education and supervision are the best preventive measures that parents can take to protect their kids.”

KidsHealth.org, the leading website devoted to children’s health and parenting, offers this advice to parents for managing some familiar summer pests.

Bees & Wasps

Bees and wasps always seem to find the picnic as they buzz around in search of something sweet. To avoid stings, stay away from bee or wasp nests, keep sweet-smelling food or drinks covered when you’re eating outdoors, and don’t swat at flying insects, which can cause them to sting if they feel threatened.

It’s important for parents to know when a simple ice pack can bring relief or when medical care is in order. Seek immediate medical attention for a sting anywhere near the mouth since stings on oral mucous membranes can quickly cause severe swelling that may block airways.

A child who has any of the following symptoms may be having an allergic reaction and it’s important to get medical help immediately:

  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Wheezing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Fever
  • Swelling of the face, lips, or tongue.

Mosquitoes

Generally, mosquitoes aren’t anything to worry about. They bite, you itch, end of story. However, some can transmit West Nile virus. The good news is that healthy kids, teens and adults under age 50 are at low risk of being infected. Here are some tips to follow to ensure an itch-free summer:

  • Avoid areas where mosquitoes breed, such as still pools or ponds, and remove standing water from birdbaths and buckets.
     
  • Stay inside during dawn and dusk, when mosquitoes are most active.
     
  • Wear insect repellent that contains 10% to 30% DEET, which is approved for mosquitoes, and follow the instructions carefully. Reapply after swimming or sweating for a long time.
     
  • Use 1% hydrocortisone cream, calamine lotion (unless the sting is near the face or genitals) or a paste of water and baking soda to reduce redness, swelling and itching.

Tick Bites

Ticks removed within 24 to 48 hours are less likely to transmit diseases like Lyme disease, so the trick is to get them off the body fast. Check kids and pets for ticks carefully after being in or around a wooded area. The most important places to check are the scalp, behind the ears, back of the neck, armpits, groin area and behind the knees.

Insect repellents that contain 10% to 30% DEET are approved for protection against ticks, as well as mosquitoes and other bugs.

Spider Bites

Spider bites can sound scary, but most are minor and only cause mild swelling near the site. Most spiders found in the U.S. are harmless, with the exception of the black widow and the brown recluse spiders. It’s extremely rare that a person will die after being bitten by one of these spiders but a small percentage of people do have a reaction and may become seriously ill.

The black widow spider is easily identified by its shiny coal-black body and the orange hourglass shape on its underbelly. The venom in a black widow bite can cause painful muscle cramps and stiffness that start near the bite and then spread within a few hours. There is usually no sign of a bite on the skin. Other symptoms may include nausea, vomiting, chills and fever.

The brown recluse spider is a tiny oval spider with a small violin-like shape on its back. For most people, brown recluse bites don’t cause problems. However, some may experience swelling and a blister near the site 4 to 8 hours after being bitten.

If you have any reason to suspect a bite by a black widow or brown recluse, apply ice to the bite site and go to the emergency room. Even if the person doesn’t show any symptoms, get medical attention right away.

“Playing outside in the summer is a lot of fun, bugs or no bugs,” adds Dr. Cronan. “With a little bit of care, you can have fun even when the insects come marching in!”

You’ll find instruction sheets on insect stings, tick bites and spider bites at www.kidshealth.org.

KidsHealth has a physician-directed, professional editorial staff and is the largest resource of online children’s health, behavioral and developmental information.

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