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Treating Your Child’s Bug Bites

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Treating Your Child’s Bug Bites

Sep 11, 2023

Summer weather can often lead to bug bites. What do you do if your child gets bit by an insect while playing outside? From mosquito bites to a bite from a black widow, pediatrician Cindy Gellner, MD, talks about the most effective treatments for bug bites.

Episode Transcript

Spring brings flowers, sunny days, and bug bites. What to do if your child gets bit by a bug or even a spider?

Common Bug Bites: Mosquitoes, Ants, Beetles, and Spiders

Bug bites are annoying. We all get them, and my husband likes to point out that it's only the female mosquitoes that do the biting. Normally, mosquitoes, chiggers, and fleas cause itchy red bumps. Bites from horse or deer flies, fire ants, and certain beetles, can cause painful red bumps. Ant bites can change to blisters in a few hours. Itchy bug bites are easy to take care of. Use over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream and antihistamines. Painful bites can be helped by putting ice on the area for up to 20 minutes.

But what about spiders? The spiders most people worry about are the black widow and brown recluse spiders. Black widow and brown recluse spiders are the only highly venomous spiders in North America. The black widow is a shiny, jet-black spider with long legs and a red hourglass shape marking its underside. It's about an inch long, including the legs, and it likes to live in woodpiles, garages, and other dark spaces. The brown recluse is brown, has long legs, and a dark, violin-shaped marking on its head. It's about half an inch long, including the legs. Brown recluse spiders live outdoors under rocks, logs, woodpiles, and trash. This spider is also able to live indoors and hunts at night since it doesn't make a web.

Immediate First Aid for Spider Bites

Bites may occur while moving stored items or putting on a piece of clothing where a spider is hiding. But the good news is they can't bite through clothing. Black widow bites cause immediate, local pain and swelling. You'll have muscle cramps that may also occur from 6 to 24 hours. Brown recluse spider bites will cause local pain and a blister formation in 48 hours. The damage is so bad that it may require skin grafts. But bites from these spiders rarely cause death.

For both spiders, you want to immediately wash the bite with soap and water, and put an ice cube on the bite to slow the spread of the venom. Then, take your child to the closest children's hospital emergency room.

What if you don't know what kind of spider your child was bitten by? Many spiders, like garden spiders, can cause local, but not harmful reactions. These bites are painful and swollen for one to two days, much like a bee sting. In fact, spiders are responsible for many unexplained, tender bites that occur on our children at night. Again, wash the area with soap and water. Put a cold pack on the bite for about 20 minutes, which will help reduce the pain and swelling.

Bug bites will happen. But knowing what to do right away, what a normal bit reaction looks like, and when it's time to be seen, can help reduce your stress a lot.


updated: September 11, 2023
originally published: August 21, 2017