Protect your toddler from bug stings

By Erin Dym on July 25, 2012
Indian summers are the perfect time for outdoor picnics, popsicles and enjoying your flower garden before autumn sets in. But sometimes, it feels like you can’t enjoy the outdoors without being chased indoors by the bees. In fact, late in the summer is when social wasp (yellowjacket and hornet) colonies have reached their largest population as the baby larvae mature, says Dr. Elana Lavine, who specializes in Pediatric Allergy and Clinical Immunology at Humber River Regional Hospital in Toronto.

“The larvae need more food than the adult wasps can deliver, so they become strongly attracted to sweet foods, such as wild berries and flower nectars, but also sweet foods and drinks that are being eaten outdoors in our yards and parks.”

This leaves you and your kids at greater risk of being stung – especially little kids who might try to swat at the bees. “Wasps and bees are not typically aggressive outside of their hives,” says Dr. Lavine. “Stings usually happen when people inadvertently interfere with their search for food, or their actual feeding, and come into close skin contact with the wasp or bee.”

Kids are most at risk of getting stung when they are eating or drinking outdoors. Reduce your chances by using Dr. Lavine’s tips:
  • Supervise your children’s drinks so they are not left open for wasps to enter and hide. 
  • Avoid eating and drinking outdoors, or supervise small children so that they eat quickly. Be sure to wash food residue from their hands and face.
  • Skip scented lotions or perfumes.
  • Keep skin covered, tuck in shirts, and don’t walk barefoot.

If your child does get stung, there are a couple of things you can do, says Dr. Lavine:
  • Stay calm and try to calm down your child. 
  • Examine the site of the sting. Honeybees leave a venom sac and stinger behind. If you can, remove it immediately after being stung with a piece of paper or your fingernail. After a few seconds the venom has already been released.
  • Treat redness, pain or swelling at the site of the sting with an ice pack and some pain medication, such as acetaminophen. Your child will feel better within a few hours.

Is it an allergic reaction

If there is significant swelling at the site, it may be an allergic reaction. “It may take a day or two to reach its maximum size and then several days or even a week to totally resolve,” says Dr. Lavine. “You can use medication for pain or itch. If the swelling is very uncomfortable see your doctor for a stronger medication such as a steroid.”

A more serious or systemic allergic reaction usually takes place right after a sting and is called anaphylaxis. Symptoms might include:
  • a rash, such as skin redness, swelling or hives 
  • trouble breathing, talking, or swallowing
  • feeling light-headed, sleepy or fainting
  • nausea, stomach pain, vomiting or diarrhea

“In this situation, call 911,” says Dr. Lavine. Stay with your children, and keep them in whatever position they are most comfortable and can breathe most easily. If they are lying down, let them stay in that position.

“If there is an epinephrine auto injector available, it can be given by pushing the device into the muscle of the thigh and holding it for five to 10 seconds to deliver the dose of epinephrine (adrenaline), which is the best treatment for anaphylaxis.”

Carry two doses of epinephrine during sting season if your child has anaphylaxis and speak to all of your child’s caregivers about how to manage a sting. If you think your child has had an allergic reaction to a sting, visit your doctor to discuss your concern and to make a safety plan. You might be referred to an allergist/immunologist to determine whether your child does have an allergy to bee or wasp venom.

Originally published in ParentsCanada magazine, August/September 2012.

By Erin Dym| July 25, 2012

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