Insect Stings


About Insect Stings

Insects that sting, such as bees, wasps and fire ants, do not usually carry disease, but their stings can cause pain and irritation (most common) as well as death in individuals who are severely allergic to them (rare).

Yellow jackets cause the most allergic reactions in the U.S.

Fire ants, usually found in southern states, can sting multiple times, and the sites are more likely to become infected.


The following are the most common symptoms of insect stings. However, each child may experience symptoms differently.

Local skin reactions at the site or surrounding the sting can include pain, swelling, redness, itching, warmth, a small amount of bleeding or draining, and hives. 

Generalized symptoms that indicate a more serious and possibly life-threatening allergic reaction, including the following:

  • Coughing with shortness of breath or wheezing
  • Hoarseness
  • Tickling or tightness in the throat or chest
  • Abdominal cramps, nausea, vomiting or diarrhea
  • Dizziness or fainting
  • Swelling of the hands, feet, face, mouth, eyelids or ears, especially when it is far from the site of the sting


Even large local reactions with the symptoms listed above are expected and usually do not lead to generalized reactions. However, they can be life-threatening if the sting occurs in the mouth, nose, or throat area; this is due to swelling that can block the airway.

Call 911 or your local emergency medical service and seek emergency care immediately if your child is stung in the mouth, nose, or throat area, or for any signs of a systemic or generalized reaction.

How to treat local skin reactions:

  • Calm your child and let him or her know that you can help.
  • Do not try to pull the stinger out, as this may release more venom. Instead, try toremove it by gently scraping across the site with a blunt-edged object, such as a credit card or dull knife
  • Wash the area thoroughly with soap and water.
  • Apply a cold or ice pack wrapped in a cloth to help reduce swelling and pain (10 minutes on and 10 minutes off for 30 to 60 minutes).
  • If the sting occurs on an arm or leg, elevate the limb to help reduce swelling.

To help reduce the itching and discomfort, consider the following:

  • Apply a paste of baking soda and water or a wet tea bag and leave it on for 15 to 20 minutes.
  • Use an over-the-counter product made to use on insect stings.
  • Apply an antihistamine cream, corticosteroid cream or calamine lotion.
  • Give acetaminophen for pain. Be sure to follow dosage instructions carefully for your child.
  • Give an over-the-counter antihistamine, if approved by your child's health care provider. Be sure to follow dosage instructions carefully for your child.

Observe your child closely for the next hour for any signs of a generalized reaction (see symptoms listed above) that would warrant emergency medical treatment.

Prevention of insect stings

Some general guidelines to help reduce the chance of insect stings while outdoors include:

  • Avoid perfumes, hairsprays, and other scented products.
  • Do not let your child walk or play outside barefoot.
  • Spray your child's clothing with insect repellent made for children.
  • Make sure your child avoids locations of hives, nests and ant mounds. Have them removed by professionals.
  • Teach your child that if an insect comes near to stay calm and to back away slowly.

Some additional preventive measures for children who have a known or suspected allergy to stings include the following:

  • Carry a bee sting kit (including an EpiPen) at all times and make sure your child knows how to use it. These products are available by prescription.
  • Make sure your child wears long-sleeve shirts, long pants and shoes when playing outdoors.
  • See an allergist for allergy testing and treatment.