Motherhood, Marriage and Other Wild Rides

Health, Happiness and the Pursuit of Mommyhood

Home Remedies for Insect Bites and Stings March 19, 2009

What are the most common insect bites and how can you avoid them? What are good treatment options? When should you call the doctor? Here are some excellent tips from blogger and mother of Willow, Beverly (aka: Mommy Vomitpants):

The most common types of bites or stings that a child could come across when playing outside include bees, wasps, spiders, mosquitoes, fleas, and ants. There may be some additional insects that are common to your part of the country, but rest assured that the treatment would be essentially the same for any bite or sting.

Insect bites

According to the Mayo Clinic, most reactions to insect bites are mild, causing little more than an annoying itching or stinging sensation and mild swelling that disappear within a day or so. A delayed reaction may cause fever, hives, painful joints and swollen glands. You might experience both the immediate and the delayed reactions from the same insect bite or sting. Only a small percentage of people develop severe reactions (anaphylaxis) to insect venom. Signs and symptoms of a severe reaction include:

  • Facial swelling
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Abdominal pain
  • Shock

Bites from bees, wasps, hornets, yellow jackets and fire ants are typically the most troublesome. Bites from mosquitoes, ticks, biting flies and some spiders also can cause reactions, but these are generally milder.

According to Pediatrics, treatment should be symptomatic (based on the symptoms). Most insect bites and stings only cause local reactions, including redness, swelling, pain and itching.

After you thoroughly wash the area with soap and water, other symptomatic treatments that may help your child feel better include applying:

  • an ice pack or cool compress
  • a meat tenderizer solution, which can be made by mixing one part meat tenderizer and 4 parts of water. This is especially helpful for painful stings from bee, wasp or ant. For best effect, soak a cotton ball in the meat tenderizer solution and use it to rub the area of the bite for 15-20 minutes.
  • a baking soda paste
  • a topical steroid or other topical anti-itch cream, such as Calamine lotion, to the area

Other medications, including an oral antihistamine for itching, such as diphenhydramine (Benadryl), and/or pain medications, such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen, may also help. More extensive local reactions may sometimes require a short course of an oral steroid.

Antibiotics may be needed if the bite becomes infected.

So, what do you do if you or your child has a severe reaction to an insect sting or bite? According to the Mayo Clinic, severe reactions may progress rapidly. Dial 911 or call for emergency medical assistance if the following signs or symptoms occur:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Swelling of the lips or throat
  • Faintness
  • Dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Hives
  • Nausea, cramps and vomiting

Take these actions immediately while waiting with an affected person for medical help:

  1. Check for special medications that the person might be carrying to treat an allergic attack, such as an auto-injector of epinephrine (for example, EpiPen). Administer the drug as directed — usually by pressing the auto-injector against the person’s thigh and holding it in place for several seconds. Massage the injection site for 10 seconds to enhance absorption.
  2. Have the person take an antihistamine pill if he or she is able to do so without choking, after administering epinephrine.
  3. Have the person lie still on his or her back with feet higher than the head.
  4. Loosen tight clothing and cover the person with a blanket. Don’t give anything to drink.
  5. Turn the person on his or her side to prevent choking, if there’s vomiting or bleeding from the mouth.
  6. Begin CPR, if there are no signs of circulation (breathing, coughing or movement).

If your doctor has prescribed an auto-injector of epinephrine, read the instructions before a problem develops and also have your household members read them.

According to Dr. Sears, you should take precaution before a bite becomes infected. Flea bites and mosquito bites usually don’t require any special measures to prevent infection of the surrounding skin. Insect bites will normally have some amount of redness and swelling, as well as a bit of clear drainage. Spider bites, however, tend to create a much larger area of redness and swelling. While this is normal, it does increase the risk of infection developing in the bite.

Before a bite becomes infected
 Follow these steps two or three times a day:

  • Wash the bite with warm soapy water
  • Apply some diluted hydrogen peroxide (mix ½ water with ½ peroxide)
  • Wash off the peroxide after two minutes
  • Apply an over-the-counter antibiotic ointment
  • Ice applied to a large spider bite can decrease the pain and burning

Infected bites

If the red area around the bite continues to enlarge, becomes more swollen and painful, and starts to drain pus, then it has become infected. Here are some steps you should follow three times a day if this occurs:

  • Wash with warm soapy water
  • Apply a hot washcloth to the area for 10 minutes
  • Apply diluted hydrogen peroxide, then wash off after two minutes
  • Apply diluted Betadine solution (mix ¼ of this over-the-counter brownish red antiseptic with ¾ water) and let it dry for two minutes
  • Thoroughly wash off all Betadine
  • Apply over-the-counter antibiotic ointment. If your doctor will call in a prescription strength ointment called Bactroban, then this may work better.

It may take one or two days for this treatment to start to improve the infection, but it should not keep getting worse during this treatment.

More serious infection

If the redness and drainage continue to worsen, or your child develops fevers or red streaks extending out from the bite, then you should see your doctor right away. If it is after hours, you should page your doctor. Your child will probably need antibiotics to treat the infection.

Prevent bug bites and stings

According the the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), insect repellents come in many forms including aerosols, sprays, liquids, creams, and sticks. Some are made from chemicals and some have natural ingredients. And you should keep in mind that these types of repellents are for BITING insects NOT stinging insects.

The AAP sites the following as NOT EFFECTIVE for repelling insects:

  • Wristbands soaked in chemical repellents
  • Garlic or vitamin B1 taken by mouth
  • Ultrasonic devices that give off sound waves designed to keep insects away
  • Bird or bat houses
  • Backyard bug zappers (Insects may actually be attracted to your yard.)

Tips for using repellents safely:


  • Read the label and follow all directions and precautions.
  • Only apply insect repellents on the outside of your child’s clothing and on exposed skin.
  • Spray repellents in open areas to avoid breathing them in.
  • Use just enough repellent to cover your child’s clothing and exposed skin. Using more doesn’t make the repellent more effective. Avoid reapplying unless necessary.
  • Assist young children when applying insect repellents on their own. Older children also should be supervised when using these products.
  • Wash your children’s skin with soap and water to remove any repellent when they return indoors, and wash their clothing before they wear it again.


  • Never apply insect repellent to children younger than 2 months.
  • Repellents should not be sprayed directly onto your child’s face. Instead, spray a little on your hands first and then rub it on your child’s face. Avoid the eyes and mouth.
  • Insect repellents should not be applied on cuts, wounds, or irritated skin.
  • Don’t buy products that combine DEET with sunscreen. The DEET may make the sun protection factor (SPF) less effective. These products can overexpose your child to DEET because the sunscreen needs to be reapplied often.

2 Responses to “Home Remedies for Insect Bites and Stings”

  1. %post_titlt% Says:

    […] Home Remedies for Insect Bites and Stings « Motherhood, Marriage … The most common types of bites or stings that a child could come across when playing outside include bees, wasps, spiders, mosquitoes, fleas, and ants. There may be some additional insects that are common to your part of the country, […]  […]

  2. […] Yucaipa kids love to play outdoors, but CA parents need to be aware of a potential danger: bug bites. The ability to tell a harmful bug bite from a benign one is essential to keeping your active […]

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