Help for Bug Bites and Bee Stings

Ahhh, summer — July Fourth fireworks, family barbecues, ice cold watermelon, weekends at the beach … and bug bites. Or worse — bee, hornet and wasp stings.

“Dealing with biting and stinging insects is one of summer’s bummers,” says Dr. Christopher Van Tilburg, editor of Wilderness Medicine magazine and the author of eight books on outdoor safety. “At best, a bite is annoying and a sting painful. At worst, they can be life-threatening if the person that was bitten or stung has an allergic reaction.”

Repellents can help ward off insects, but even the most powerful are not foolproof if you miss a patch of skin. A summer mosquito bite or bee sting is almost inevitable and can be annoying to adult sufferers and traumatizing to the youngest members of the family.

Van Tilburg offers some tips to help ensure insect bites and stings don’t take a bite out of your summer fun:

• Wash the bite or sting with soap and water. Keep an eye out for infection. If the bite or sting becomes increasingly red or painful, swells or oozes pus, or if the red spot is bigger than a nickel, have a doctor look at it.

• Apply an anti-itch treatment designed specifically for insect bites and stings. Oral antihistamines may help, but also carry the risk of making one drowsy, so stick with a topical remedy. Avoid those that rely on benzocaine or lidocaine, both of which simply mask the itch and need to be constantly reapplied since the relief is short lived. Instead, opt for a benzocaine-free product like AfterBite.

The adult version counteracts the bite with ammonia and the children’s version (AfterBite Kids) gently eliminates the pain and swelling with a baking soda-based cream. Both formulations work to soothe the bite — providing fast, long-term relief — and help moisturize the skin. AfterBite contains mineral oil and the kids’ version comes with Vitamin E, aloe vera and tea tree oil — all ingredients that are effective skin softeners. Tea tree oil also kills bacteria, which is an important benefit if a child’s insect bite or sting has become infected through over scratching. If you don’t have a remedy on hand, apply ice or cold to relieve the pain and swelling.

• In case of a sting, remove the stinger and venom sac as quickly as possible. The venom sac will continue to pump venom into the skin, even if you’ve already removed the rest of the insect. If you don’t have extra strength AfterBite Outdoor (which contains baking soda, tea tree oil and ammonia) available, make a paste of baking soda and water and apply it to the affected area for bee stings. For wasps, try vinegar, lemon juice or another acidic substance that may help neutralize the pain-causing toxin.

• Bee, hornet or wasp stings (and some ant bites) can lead to anaphylactic shock, a serious life-threatening allergic reaction. Symptoms include hives, wheezing, dizziness, tightness in the chest, a rapid heartbeat and a drop in blood pressure. Anaphylactic shock requires immediate treatment with epinephrine and antihistamines. If someone in your family has a known bee allergy, be sure to keep an epinephrine auto-injector — prescribed by your doctor — on hand. Seek medical assistance as soon as possible.

• Bugs aren’t the only stinging creatures to be cautious about during summer months. If your family romps at the beach, beware of jellyfish stings. Some types of jellyfish deliver stings that are merely painful, while a handful can actually give a life-threatening sting. Use AfterBite or vinegar to neutralize jellyfish venom.

“Bites and stings are a reality of summer, but with a little preparedness and proper treatment, they don’t have to be a big bummer,” Van Tilburg says.

To learn more about treating summer insect bites and stings, visit

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> My child was stung by a bee. What do I do?
> Battling the Bees and Bugs of Summer