by A. Gabriel Schifman, DO, Medical Director, Pediatric ER at Overland Park Regional Medical Center

Bug bites and stings are usually just annoying, causing temporary discomfort and pain but no serious or lasting health problems. But sometimes, they can cause infections that require treatment or allergic reactions that can be serious, even fatal.

Preventing bug bites and stings

Parents should know the signs of an infection or allergic reaction, and when to get medical care. They should also make sure to inform all caregivers if a child has a history of problems with certain types of bites or stings so they know what to do in an emergency. In addition to taking these steps to prepare, parents should be diligent about preventing bites and stings to begin with.

Here are some ways to protect your family from bites and stings:

  • Prevent flea infestations by treating your house (including all carpets, furniture and pets) regularly, especially during the warmer months. Frequent vacuuming can also help.
  • Avoid mosquitoes by staying away from areas where mosquitoes breed, such as pools, ponds or containers with standing water. Prevent mosquito bites by removing standing water from birdbaths, buckets, etc.; staying inside when mosquitoes are most active (dawn and dusk); and applying insect repellent when outside.
  • When in an area that ticks might be present, such as woods or parks, stay in the center of trails, avoiding woody areas with high grass. Check kids for ticks every few hours and as soon as you come inside. Remove any you find immediately. The most important places to check are behind the ears, on the scalp, on the back of the neck, in the armpits, in the groin area and behind the knees. Have kids shower as soon as they come in from outdoors and check your pets when they come inside, too.
  • Use insect repellent when spending time outdoors camping, hiking, etc. Repellents that contain 10 percent to 30 percent DEET  are approved to repel mosquitoes, ticks and some other bugs. Repellents that contain picaridin or oil of lemon eucalyptus are considered effective against mosquitoes. Follow the instructions for the repellent carefully and check what ages the product is appropriate for. Additionally, don't overuse it — using more than is needed won't provide any extra protection – but do reapply insect repellent according to the directions.
  • When you or your kids are in wooded areas, tuck clothes in and keep as covered up as possible. Tuck pants into socks and shirts into pants. Wear shoes and socks when walking on grass, even if it's just for a minute. Bees and wasps can sting unprotected feet.
  • Wear gloves when gardening.
  • Don't disturb bee or wasp nests.
  • Don't swat at buzzing insects — they will sting if they feel threatened.
  • Be aware that spiders might be hiding in undisturbed piles of wood, seldom-opened boxes or corners behind furniture, and proceed with caution. If you notice a high number of spider shells (exoskeletons) laying around a particular area, consider calling a professional pest control company to assess the situation.

For more pediatric health and safety advice, visit oprmc.com/pediatrics.