Insect Bites, Stings and Lice

Parenting in the Early Years

Insect Bites, Stings and Lice

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Health Facts for You

Head Lice in Children

Insect Repellents for Children

Most insect bites improve rapidly and do not require medical attention. Sensitive skin will experience intense itching which is not an allergic reaction to the biting or stinging insect, but a reaction to its venom. These bites stay small and remain localized.

An allergic reaction will produce one of several different reactions:

  • Anaphylactic reactions are rapid and life threatening. These result in difficult breathing and shock (collapse). Medical help needs to be obtained immediately by transport to the nearest emergency room or by dialing 911 for emergency assistance.
  • Serum sickness reactions, which can cause hives and swelling of the joints. This is not an emergency but will require medical attention.
  • Hives, which are allergic welts that itch and come and go, but are not serious. Benadryl® is often used to control itching.

Insect Stings

Bees and wasps that sting are capable of bringing on an allergic reaction, but most of the time the sting is just painful.

Bees usually sting once, but wasps can sting many times. The honeybee can leave the stinger in the skin. It will appear as a tiny brown sliver.

Remove the stinger by flicking it out with the edge of a credit card. Using a tweezers will press more venom into the wound and intensify the reaction. Cold compresses or ice compresses will help reduce the pain and swelling. Various other home remedies may give minimal help. If a prescription is necessary, you will need to contact your doctor.

In the event of an allergic reaction, you will need to see an allergist (your child's doctor will recommend one) to test for the specific allergen involved. You may also need an emergency bee sting kit or your child may need to undergo desensitization.

Mosquito Bites 

The best defense against the common mosquito bite is prevention. Wear dull colored clothing to cover the exposed body. Do not wear attracting perfumes, scented soaps or hair sprays. Stay in after dark when the pests are out. Insect repellents do work, but many are toxic. Apply the repellent to the clothing. Limit direct skin contact.

Tick Bites/Lyme Disease 

Ticks in Wisconsin are mostly the wood (dog) tick variety (about 1/4 inch long), which tends to be harmless. In other areas of the United States they can carry disease.

The deer tick (pinhead size) is prevalent in the woods near major rivers and is sometimes a carrier of the organism that causes Lyme Disease.

Tick season is in the spring but often carries into summer. During tick season, carefully inspect the skin and scalp of any member who has been in wooded areas. Prevent tick bites by wearing long clothing with secured pant legs.

Apply repellent to the clothing.

When a tick becomes embedded in the skin, it can usually be removed with tweezers. Grasp its head firmly as close to the skin as possible. Pull steadily upward and wait for it to release. Do not squeeze the body of the tick with the tweezers as this can release germs into the wound. Remove any residual pieces left in the skin, and then scrub the wound with soap and water. If in doubt about the variety of the tick, save it for later inspection.

Lyme disease is characterized by a fever, sore throat and headache. These symptoms may appear within a week of the infected tick bite. A characteristic rash may follow which appears as a bulls-eye-like red ring surrounding the tick bite. It may appear elsewhere on the body as well. It can appear up to a month after the tick bite. Additional symptoms include arthritis and swollen, painful joints. Late neurologic symptoms can develop which include a stiff neck and weakness of the extremities.

Diagnosis can be made with a blood test. Lyme disease is treated with antibiotics. Early treatment often prevents most serious complications.


Scabies are microscopic sized mites that burrow under the skin and cause intense itching. There is a little red burrow at the site of the entry of the mite. Mites can be passed by direct contact with an infected individual. Treatment consists of a lotion applied to the body overnight. Contact your doctor's office for diagnosis and treatment recommendations.

Bed clothing and worn clothing of the infested child should be washed. Close contacts in the family may need preventive treatment.


Head lice (pediculosis) in children are usually transmitted from another person, while in close contact or swapping hats. These are more embarrassing than harmful. Sometimes they are hard to treat.

The first sign is an itchy scalp. Sometimes the nits (eggs) are noticed first. They are tiny whitish-brown dots attached firmly to the hair close to the scalp. The louse looks like a very small crab about the size of a pinhead. It can be seen moving.

Treatment, after identification, is by medicated shampoos or hair rinses. Some of these are prescription and should not be used on infants. Others can be purchased in the pharmacy.

It is best to contact your doctor's office for treatment advice.

A special comb is used to remove the firmly attached nits after the treatment shampoo has been applied. You will also need to wash the bedclothes, clothing, hair brush and hats of the infested child as well as search other family members for the presence of lice.

It is also a good idea to inform the childcare center or other places where your child spends his time. If one child has them, you can be reasonably sure another child does as well. The ease with which these critters are passed between children makes repeated episodes common. You may be able to head off some of these by making sure others are alerted and appropriately treated.