Handy tips for parents when bugs bite their children

  • Family
  • Thursday, 10 Aug 2023

Children often playing outdoors are bound to step on a bee or wasp eventually. — Photos: CHRISTIN KLOSE/dpa

WHEN it’s warm outside, playgrounds and gardens are abuzz with romping children. They’re also abuzz with insects, whose painful bites or stings can pull the plug on play. If your child pays the price for stepping on a wasp or grabbing at a bee, it will help, of course, to give them words of comfort and dry their tears. But you can do more.

A paediatrician and pharmacist answer some questions about kids’ insect bites and stings that may have been bugging you.

Can you tell what kind of insect bit or stung the child?

“You normally can’t tell unless it was a bee and the sting is still stuck in the skin,” says Dr Ursula Sellerberg, deputy spokeswoman for the Federal Union of German Associations of Pharmacists (ABDA). If it is, you should carefully remove it without squeezing out the venom sac, which may still be attached.

”This small sac independently continues injecting venom into the sting,” explains Dr Ulrich Fegeler, a member of the Cologne-based Professional Association of Paediatricians (BVKJ). By removing the sting quickly, you let less venom get into the skin.

What first aid measures should be taken for insect bites or stings?

Rule number one is to cool the affected area, “ideally with crushed ice,” Fegeler says. He advises wrapping ice cubes from the freezer in a cloth and then crushing them with a board or hammer. Parents shouldn’t put the ice directly on the child’s skin, but leave it in the cloth to prevent frostbite.

While no scientific studies have been done on grandma’s home remedies, many have proven themselves over decades and can serve you well. One is applying slices of onion to the wound, the effectiveness of which, Sellerberg says, has been shown by “practical experience.”

It’s important to keep dirt out of the wound, which could bring bacteria into the body and cause infection. Disinfecting the wound is fine, Fegeler says, but needn’t be done immediately. Applying a sticking plaster will help keep it clean and prevent the child from scratching it – and bringing in dirt that way.

If your child has been stung by a wasp or bee in the mouth or neck area, you should always take them to a doctor right away.If your child has been stung by a wasp or bee in the mouth or neck area, you should always take them to a doctor right away.

Do electronic heat pens help?

These devices heat the venom of an insect bite or sting within seconds to about 50 degrees Celsius, thereby altering its constituent proteins and preventing swelling and itching. The pen must be used promptly, however.

“It’s extremely effective,” Fegeler says. “But the child has got to go along with it,” as its application is briefly painful. So before the pen is used, the child should know what to expect.

Sellerberg recommends that parents first try out the device on themselves. If they think their child can withstand the pain, they should explain to them how it works. The child must therefore be old enough to understand.

”To be precise, the pen causes a small, first-degree burn like a sunburn,” as Fegeler describes it. “But it’s so tiny that it’s insignificant and results in no more than a bit of brief redness.”

What you by no means should do is heat something yourself, such as a spoon, and apply it to the wound. “Unlike with a heat pen, the temperature is then uncontrolled,” says Fegeler.

Need you apply gel to the wound?

Not necessarily, says Sellerberg, since “the symptoms usually go away by themselves in a few days.” An antihistamine gel can relieve itching though, and may contain some cortisone, which is anti-inflammatory. And gel has a pleasant cooling effect.

What about stings to the face? When should a child see a doctor?

If a child is stung near the eye, the loose type of tissue there allows the venom to spread easily. So swelling is more likely to develop that may appear alarming. Parents who are uncertain of its seriousness should definitely take the child to a doctor.

The situation can become truly serious if, for example, a wasp gets into a child’s mouth and stings them there. “A sting of this sort can result in extreme swelling, and there’s a risk of obstruction of the airway,” warns Fegeler.

For this reason, parents should always take a child who has been stung by a wasp or bee in the mouth or neck area to a doctor right away.

How can you tell if your child is allergic to insect venom?

Basically every reaction to an insect bite or sting has a minor allergic component, according to Fegeler. A life-threatening allergy to insect venom can in fact be present, but is rare. Its symptoms include difficulty breathing and facial swelling.

If your child displays a reaction like this, you should take them to a doctor immediately or summon a doctor on emergency call.

“This sort of allergy never manifests itself in this way after the first bite or sting,” Fegeler says. “The body has got to have contended with the venom before.” When the allergy is known to exist, the child should be provided with the necessary emergency medications.

What’s the best way to help prevent kids from getting insect bites or stings?

Simple measures include a mosquito net over the pram, long-sleeved clothing and not consuming uncovered sweet foods and beverages outdoors, which can attract bees and wasps. And there’s a wide range of insect repellents on the market that can either be rubbed or sprayed onto a child.

It’s important that the repellent be regularly reapplied – “the more the child sweats, the more often,” says Sellerberg. Swimming or splashing about in a pool can also cause repellents to wash off.

Parents should heed the instruction leaflet in the package and ask the dispensing chemist for a repellent suitable for children. Young children shouldn’t apply it themselves. – dpa/Christina Bachmann

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