First aid: First aid for insect bites

What is it?

Most insect bites allow for injection of venom or other digestive juices into the skin of the child. The swelling from the bite is not caused so much by these juices themselves, but by the body's reaction to the juices.

What are the symptoms?

Most insect bites (mosquitoes, flies, chiggers, fleas, etc.) cause only red bumps, which are mildly painful or itch. Some insects, such as fire ants, cause painful bites. Uncommonly, fire ants can cause life-threatening allergic reactions. Most people experience pain and swelling at the site. The swelling may evolve into small fluid filled pustules that itch. Uncommonly a more serious reaction involves an allergic response to the proteins in the fire ant venom. People who develop this experience hives, nausea, vomiting, and difficulty breathing.

What can/should be done at home

The treatment for the common local reactions involves trying to decrease the symptoms. This is most often done using over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream. For severe itching, Benadryl (diphenhydramine) may be used, with your doctor's guidance, to help decrease the itching.

When to get immediate attention

  • If there is any trouble breathing
  • If your child becomes light-headed or faints
  • If hives (red splotches) develop around the bite or in other areas of the body
  • If your child develops swelling about the lips, eyes, tongue, or penis
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