First Aid: Insect bites and stings

First Aid: Insect bites and stings

An inopportune visit from a bee, wasp or even a spider may cause a great deal of uproar amongst children. Screaming, shouting and startling movements of panic may intimidate these little creatures – the insects, not the children.

This commotion may increase your child’s risk of getting bitten or stung by an insect. Many bug bites and stings create uncomfortable reactions. But, despite this, they usually do not pose a threat to the long term health of your child. Even so, the presence of allergic reactions from more dangerous spider bite, such as the -Black Widow’ – could be much more severe.


Preventing insect bites and stings

Advise your children to remain calm in the presence of a wasp or a bee. They should not over react as this will only rouse the insect. Children can decrease their chances of getting stung or bitten by simply remaining still or allowing an adult to assist them by carefully swatting the insect.



The general signs and symptoms below of an insect bite or sting include:

  • Redness
  • Itching
  • Heat
  • Swelling
  • Abrupt pain

The reactions below may point to signs and symptoms of a life-threatening allergic reaction. Get medical assistance as soon as you notice the following;

  • Swelling of the airway, tongue, lips and/or face
  • Difficulties with breathing which may become severe
  • Vomiting
  • Fever
  • Itching— the development of a rash
  • White, pink or blotchy bump on the skin
  • Weakness
  • Headache
  • Anxiety
  • Abdominal cramps

What you must do:

  • After the sting occurs, the stinger of the insect (for example, a bee) may remain attached to a poison sac. Look for the sting that may remain penetrated into the skin.
  • Once spotted, use a sharp edge – such as a knife or even credit card—to carefully scrape the stinger and the poison sac from the skin. Do not use any items that may cause more venom to enter the body (such as your tweezers, fingers and other edgeless items).
  • To dispel the irritation; rub a paste of baking soda or water/ice on to the area.
  • Give the child his or her prescribed medication for allergic reactions.

What about stings inside the mouth?

  • Offer mouthwash containing one teaspoon of baking soda in glass of water. Alternatively, you can offer a cube of ice.
  • If swelling occurs within the mouth or if your child acquires breathing problems, get medical help immediately.


Spider Bites

Although most are painful,most spider bites are harmless. This is all except the Button spider or the Black Widow. Within hours, its venom may induce painful muscle cramps. Although the cramps begin around the site of the bite, the pain eventually becomes more prevalent. The venom of these spiders contains a toxin which affects the nervous system. The effect of the Black Widow spider bite may lead to nausea, fever, vomiting and sweating. Nevertheless, being bitten by a -Black Widow’ spider would be the worst case scenario. If you suspect the bite of a Black Widow get medical help immediately so that your child can get treatment.

What to do:

  • Wash the area with soap and water
  • Apply an ice pack onto the area of the bite to relieve the swelling and irritation
  • Children may use acetaminophen or ibuprofen as a pain reliever.
  • If muscle cramps begin, get medical help immediately

For further assistance call the Poison Information Centre.

A child who has been bitten by a spider may not realise it immediately. Signs and symptoms from a non-poisonous spider bites include:

  • Redness
  • Pain
  • Irritation

In severe cases (such as being bitten by a Black Widow spider), your child may experience the following types of discomfort:

  • Soles of the feet will have a burning sensation
  • Widespread muscle cramps
  • Sweating
  • Vomiting
  • Headache
  • Slurred speech


About The Poison Information Centre [POI]

(Red Cross Children’s Hospital Poison Line)

Telephone:      021 689 5227

The Poison Information Centre is a 24 hour emergency service available to the South African public. At the moment, there are two emergency poison lines which offer professional medical assistance relating to poisons. The POI’s database holds information relating to over 40 000 toxins. The experts offer advice for victims of all ages; babies, toddles, children and adults. Whether its inhalation, absorption, injection or consumption of toxins, the POI offers advice on the substance from its extensive database. They will provide you with information about side effects and will even advise you on what to do.

Generally, home treatment for insect bites and stings is fairly easy to remember. Parents and caretakers should take note of the more severe signs and symptoms – this includes identifying allergic reactions and a dangerous spider bite. For the most part, these bites and stings are harmless. With efficient home or professional treatment depending on the seriousness of the situation, parents and caretakers can react appropriately.


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