How to take the sting out of bee, wasp stings

Drs. Sally Robinson & Keith Bly

Drs. Sally Robinson & Keith Bly

Keeping Kids Healthy

Summer is here and yellow jackets compete for our barbecued burgers and soft drinks while bumblebees in the clover can collide with big and little bare feet.

As many parents know, bee stings can put a damper on summer fun. Here are a few things to keep in mind if your little one gets stung.

Most bee stings cause a painful red bump, which often appears immediately.

If you notice a black dot in the bump, the stinger may still be in the skin and needs to be removed.

You can do this by simply scraping across the black spot with a striate edge, such as a plastic credit card or fingernail.

It’s a good idea to apply ice or cool water to the site for about 10 to 30 minutes after the sting. This blunts or slows down the body’s allergic response.

You may also apply a solution of one part meat tenderizer to four parts water for less than 30 minutes.

Papain, the enzyme in the meat tenderizer, breaks down the protein in bee venom that is responsible for the pain and itching.

A hydrocortisone cream or calamine lotion also will reduce itching and inflammation.

While most stings pose no threat to most children, for some, a bee sting can result in an allergic reaction called anaphylactic shock, which might be life threatening.

“Allergies to bee stings are a reality,” said Dr. Edward Brooks. “Approximately 3 percent of the U.S. population may have a severe allergic reaction to bees and related species such as wasps and fire ants.”

Unfortunately, people are usually not aware that they have an allergy to bee stings until they are stung.

Symptoms of an allergic reaction include the swelling or itching of other areas of the body.

Sometimes hives will appear. Multiple stings might cause vomiting, diarrhea and a headache.

Difficulty breathing, swallowing or a scratchy feeling in the throat or unconsciousness after a bee sting requires immediate medical attention.

“A child with a bee sting also requires medical evaluation if the sting site looks infected, continues to swell or becomes more painful after 24 hours,” Brooks said.

If you know your child has an allergy to bee stings, keep an anaphylaxis emergency kit nearby. Be sure all baby sitters, teachers and relatives know of your child’s allergy.

Although you cannot prevent your child for being stung, you can reduce your child’s risk. Here are some tips.

  • Avoid fragrances, including hair spray, scented soaps, lotions or oils. Bees usually approach children with a sweet scent.
  • Don’t wear brightly colored clothing, particularly floral patterns.
  • Teach your kids to avoid such areas as underneath house eaves and inside sheds where hornets and wasps might have nests.
  • Be careful with beverages as well as food. Bees are notorious for climbing in and stinging kids when they drink. And, keep in mind that something as small as a forgotten raspberry jam stain on a sweater can be a problem.

Sally Robinson is a clinical professor of pediatrics at UTMB Children’s Hospital, and Keith Bly is an associate professor of pediatrics and director of the UTMB Pediatric Urgent Care Clinics. This column isn’t intended to replace the advice of your child’s physician.

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