Insect Bites and Stings in Children: When Should You See a Doctor?

Insect Bites and Stings in Children: When Should You See a Doctor?

While rarely harmful, insect bites and stings can be painful and irritating for your little one. Find out what to do if your child suffers from a bug bite or sting, including when to take him or her to the doctor.

Insect bites and stings in children are part-and-parcel of living in the tropics. In general, these little critters will leave you alone if you leave them alone.

However, sometimes, children (being naturally inquisitive) may suffer from Insect bites and stings especially if they let their curiosity get the better of them and move in for a closer look at the bug in question.

Then there are also insects such as mosquitoes whose natural tendency is to bite warm human flesh — and we all know the possible dangers to health such as dengue and Zika that may accompany these bites.

What can you do at home aboutInsect bites and stings in children when should you see a doctor? How do you remove a bee sting or a tick? You’ll find the answers to these questions and more in this article.

insect bites and stings in children

An insect bite or sting, while generally not dangerous, can be irritating and painful for your little one.

Symptoms of insect bites and stings in children

The type of reaction a child will have to different types of insect bites and stings depends on a number of factors, including:

  • Location of insect bite/sting: A sting or bite on a child’s face (especially eyelids and lips) will probably have a greater reaction than a sting on a child’s foot. A bite on the neck or in the mouth can have especially severe consequences related to breathing and swallowing, and should be medically attended to without delay.
  • Child’s history of allergies: If your child has allergies, then he may have a severe anaphylactic reactions to certain insect bites and stings warranting immediate medical attention.
  • Presence and/or amount of toxins: Your child’s reaction to an insect bite may also depend on if toxins or other irritants were injected by the insect.

The following are some of the most common symptoms of an insect bite and stings.

  • Immediate localised reactions: swelling, itching, redness, warmth, pain.
  • Delayed reactions (occasional): hives (or other similar rash), fever, joint pains, swollen lymph nodes.

Types of insect bites and stings and what you should do

1. Mosquito bites

insect bites and stings in children

More than the bite itself, the danger of mosquitos lies in the harmful viruses they can infect your child with, such as dengue.

While a mosquito bite in itself is usually harmless, we all know the bigger risk lies in the possibility of transmission of dangerous viruses such as dengue or Zika.

Prevention of insect bites and stings

  • Use a good mosquito repellent or mosquito repelling patch on your child when heading out, especially at dusk or early in the morning when mosquitoes are usually at their most active. If there is an outbreak of mosquito-borne disease such as dengue or zika, it’s best to have the repellent/ patch on all day.
  • If you are hesitant about using chemical-based mosquito sprays and lotions, look for one that uses essential oils such as citronella and lemongrass as its base. These are really good natural mosquito repellents.
  • If you are taking your child out during the evening, night or other times when mosquitoes are active, cover his body as much as possible, e.g., loose, long sleeved cotton top and long cotton pants. Choose light-coloured clothing as mosquitoes are more attracted to dark or brightly coloured clothing.
  • Cover your child’s bed with a mosquito net at night to prevent those nighttime bites.
  • Do not let water in and around your home accumulate and become stagnant, as it becomes an easy breeding ground for mosquitoes.

Home treatment

Some children don’t even notice mosquito bites but others react with terrible itchiness, redness and bumps. If your child reacts badly to mosquito bites, try these home remedies to bring about relief.

  • Apply ice on the bite to prevent itching and swelling. Never place ice directly on the bite; instead, wrap it in a cloth first.
  • Gently rub some calamine lotion o the bite for soothing relief.
  • Ensure your child cannot scratch the bite but cutting his nails short, as this could result in infection.

2. Sand fly bites

insect bites and stings in children

Sand fly bites are much more painful than mosquito bites.

Sand flies are tiny and hard to spot because of their size and also their sandy colour which helps them merge into their sandy habitat.

They can be found in beaches or wherever there is sand and generally, a number of them  will bite in one go. These insects are usually active at dawn and dusk.

A sand fly bite is like a mosquito bite except it is much itchier, and takes longer to go away. You’ll probably find your child’s (and your) legs under attack from these tiny creatures as they cannot fly very high.

While the bites are really irritating, they are not harmful. To prevent sand flies from biting your child, follow the same steps as described above for preventing mosquito bites. Home treatment methods are also the same.

3. Bedbugs

Bedbugs are tiny insects whose food source is the blood of humans and other mammals. They can be found in warm, dry places like mattresses, rugs and sofas, and they usually bite at dawn.

Their bite is painless so it will not wake up your little one. But the bite results in very itchy bumps and you will see itchy red or pink bumps (characteristically, in lines or clusters) on your little one’s skin when he wakes up.

While the bite is harmless as bedbugs are not known to carry any blood-borne diseases, the itchiness can be distressing for your child, plus scratching at the bite may result in a secondary infection.

insect bites and stings in children

Bedbug bites will usually appear in a cluster or straight line.


  • The best form of prevention is to stop these insects from entering your home in the first place. If you are travelling with your family, always check the bed in which you’ll be sleeping for signs of these insects, as they can easily hitch a ride home with you if present.
  • Pull the mattress back and look for bugs in the slats of the bed and also check for tiny blood spots on the mattress or linen.
  • Do not place your luggage on the bed until you have examined it for bedbugs.
  • Always place your family’s used clothes in separate plastic bags and wash them as soon as possible after returning home.
  • Take care when purchasing second-hand furniture items. Always inspect them carefully, especially if made of wood, before bringing them into your home.
  • Air your pillows and mattresses often. Also get your mattress professionally cleaned often.

Handling a bedbug infestation

  • Vacuum mattresses and all parts of the bed frame to remove bugs and eggs.
  • Use mattress covers labelled as ‘anti dust-mite’ or ‘anti-allergy’ to prevent bed bugs from making your mattresses their home again. Keep these covers on permanently as adult bed bugs can survive a year or longer without a meal.
  • Wash all bedding in hot water and then dry on a high heat setting in a dryer. Place pillows also in the dryer for about 20 minutes on a high heat setting or purchase new ones.
  • Vacuum all carpets, rugs and curtains and dispose of the vacuum contents in a sealed bag. Get rid of the bag as soon as possible.
  • If the bedbug infestation is really bad, call a pest control company to eliminate them for you.

Home treatment

  • Wash the bites with soap and water. Then apply some calamine lotion, an anti-itch cream or cool compress to soothe the itchiness. The bites should clear up in a week or two.
  • Prevent your child from scratching the bites as this may cause secondary infection.
  • If you think the bites look infected or they have not cleared up in a week or two, see a doctor for advise.

4. Bees and wasps

insect bites and stings in children

When a bee or wasp stings, it pumps venom into the body through its stinger.

Bee and wasp stings can be extremely painful and in certain cases, dangerous to your child’s health especially if he has a history of allergies. The longer the stinger stays under your child’s skin, the more venom is released, so it’s important to get the stinger out as soon as possible.


  • Remove the stinger by scraping it out with the edge of a credit card or another straight edged object.
  • Do not pinch the stinger or use tweezers to remove it. This could cause more venom to be injected.
  • Ice the area and remove any tight-fitting jewellery such as bracelets or rings your child might be wearing if the sting is on a finger or arm. These may be difficult to remove if the affected area swells up.
  • If the sting is on an arm or leg, elevate the limb.
  • Give the appropriate dose of baby/children’s Panadol if your child is in pain. Use calamine lotion on the affected area or apply a paste of baking soda and water to draw out any remaining venom and also soothe the sting.
  • Keep the area clean to prevent secondary infection.

5. Ticks

These little blood-suckers commonly infest pets and from them, can migrate to your child’s body.

Ticks may transmit diseases and one tick brought into the house may result in an infestation as the female can lay thousands of eggs after feeding in dark corners and crevices of your home.

Because of this, it’s really important to regularly treat your pets for ticks and fleas, keeping them clean and groomed in general.

Ticks attach themselves by burying their head under the skin and feeding. Once they are engorged with blood, they drop off.

While they can attach themselves to any part of the body, they particularly like dark, warm crevices such as the creases of the ear (or inside it), armpit, groin, inside the belly button and back of the knees.

If you do have a tick infestation, call a professional pest control company to deal with the situation.

insect bites and stings in children

It’s important to remove the whole tick from your child’s body, without leaving its head or fangs under the skin.

Removing a tick and bite treatment

If your child complains of pain or itchiness in any of the areas mentioned above, especially after playing with an animal or outdoors, examine them carefully for ticks.

If the insect is already engorged, it’s pretty easy to spot. But if it has just attached itself, it will still be small and you’ll have to look more carefully to spot it.

To remove a tick: 

  • Grasp the tick as close to the skin as possible with a pair of fine-point tweezers and pull back slowly in a straight line, without twisting.
  • Do not grasp the skin by it’s body as you risk leaving the head/fangs inside the skin. Also, if you squeeze the body, infected fluid may enter your child’s body.
  • If you cannot remove it, or if your child is distressed or won’t stay still enough for you to remove it, head to your doctor who will be able to get rid of the insect for you.

After you remove the tick, wash the area with soap and water and clean the bite site with a topical antiseptic lotion.

When to seek medical attention

Take your child to the doctor immediately if:

  • He has a history of allergies and has been stung by a bee or wasp.
  • Your child does not have allergies but has been stung or bitten inside the mouth or on the neck.
  • He has an anaphylactic reaction. This usually starts within 20 minutes and not more than two hours after the bite or skin. You’ll notice swelling in the lips, tongue or face, difficulty breathing and/ swallowing. You may also see hives on your child’s body.
  • Has severe pain, at the bite/sting site or pronounced swelling and redness.
  • Develops fever or the bite/sting looks infected after a few days.
  • Has been stung by more than five bees/wasps at one go.
  • Develops enlarged lymph nodes or joint swellings.

Parents, do remember that in general, most insect bites and stings are harmless.

But please take the necessary precautions — including not letting your child go barefoot on grass and other steps outlined in this article — when heading out or after your child has played with pets or animals to prevent bug bites and stings.

This article contains information based on the author’s research. For any health issues or concerns regarding your child, please seek a professional medical opinion without delay. 


Royal Children’s Hospital, Melbourne





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