Summer’s warm weather brings families and kids outside. But humans aren’t the only ones who like this season. Insects, too, are naturally drawn to heat and humidity and, inevitably, there will be stings and bites when insects and humans come together.
“Most of the time stings and bites from insects cause some discomfort, like itching, burning or mild swelling. But sometimes they can cause a serious allergic reaction or infection that requires immediate medical attention,” says Dr. Geraldine Summa, a board-certified pediatrician at Summit Medical Group.
There are two kinds of responses: local and systemic. A local response is limited to the area around the bite itself: redness and swelling, for example. A systemic response, also called “anaphylaxis,” is a severe hypersensitivity that affects the entire body. There are 40 to as many as 100 deaths annually from insect-sting-related anaphylaxis. About three percent of adults have an anaphylactic reaction—which can a hereditary trait.1 Dr. Summa recommends having a basic knowledge of what to do if insects bite or sting so you and your children can enjoy summer safely.
BEE AND WASP STINGS
If you are stung by a bee or a wasp:
- Look to see if there is a stinger in place. A bumblebee will leave a stinger, but a yellow jacket or a wasp will not.
- If there is a stinger in the skin, take a blunt knife and drag the back of it across the skin smoothly in order to remove the stinger.
- If you use fingers or tweezers, you will reinject the venom into the skin.
- Clean the area with soap and water, and apply a topical hydrocortisone cream, that can be purchased over the counter at pharmacies.
- Watch for signs of an anaphylactic response: sneezing, wheezing, hives, difficulty breathing or swallowing, tightness in the chest, swelling in the face, lips and tongue.
- If you see these symptoms, go to the nearest emergency room or call 911.
Spiders are classified as “arachnids,” not insects as most people think. In New Jersey and across the northeast, most spiders are not dangerous. However, if you are traveling this summer, be aware of these two harmful species: the black widow spider and the brown recluse spider, which are both native to the southern United States.
- Common symptoms of bites from these spiders include fever and listlessness.
- These bites can also cause life-threatening infections.
- If you or your child are bitten, clean the area off and apply a tourniquet beneath the area of the bite to reduce the spread of the venom.
- Go to the local emergency room or call 911.
- Watch for any infection over the next two to three days.
Like spiders, ticks are arachnids. In the northeast, the most common tickborne disease is Lyme disease, caused by the deer tick. If you are traveling in other parts of the country this summer, be aware that there are more than a dozen ticks that can cause serious diseases, including Rocky Mountain spotted fever. (1). Here are some simple steps to follow if you find a tick attached to yourself or a child.
- Remove the tick properly.
- Find exactly where the tick head is embedded in the skin.
- Using a set of fine tweezers, pull the tick off.
- Do not use nail polish remover, rubbing alcohol or a match to dislodge the tick, as these methods will only cause the tick to bore in more to the area, which increases the risk of a tickborne illness.
PREVENTING BITES AND STINGS
The best way to avoid bites and stings is either to avoid them or prevent them by using insect repellent on the skin.
- To avoid being stung: stay away from flower beds; do not use flowery perfumes, soaps and sprays; do not wear colorful clothing, which can attract bees.
- To repel insects or ticks you can either spray your clothing or your skin.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) also recommends that if you are hiking or in a wooded area:
- Wear a long-sleeved shirt, long pants, and socks. Tuck your pants into your socks.
- Check your entire body daily, including your scalp, if you have been in an area with ticks. (2)
“I prefer to spray clothing,” says Dr. Summa. “You can use a clothing spray with permethrin, which will keep bugs away. If you are going to apply a chemical to your skin, use sprays with DEET. At the end of the day, shower off the chemicals because DEET can be toxic to the nervous system.”
1. Centers for Disease Control. “Tickborne Diseases of the United States.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 27 May 2016. Web. 9 June 2016.
3. SMGNJ. “Medical Monday: Kids and Insect Bites/Stings – Summit Medical Group.” YouTube. YouTube, 08 July 2013. Web. 9 June 2016.