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Take the sting out of your summer - top tips on how to treat bites and stings

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Summer has finally arrived.  The children are happily playing in the garden enjoying the fresh air and sunshine.  Then, all of a sudden you hear a commotion, and in a split second the joy and laughter turns to tears.  Your child has been stung by an insect.

Most of us remember being stung when little and in the majority of cases it’s a minor nuisance.  The affected area may get a little red or swollen and it may be slightly painful but usually clears up within several hours.  But for a child it’s likely to be the worst pain they’ve experienced and despite lots of tears, most bites and stings can be treated at home and with basic medication.

So, what’s the best thing to do?  And how will you know if the reaction is more serious?

Sue Nicholls, Chief Nurse at Solihull Clinical Commissioning Group said: “Insect bites and stings are very common and usually only cause minor irritation.  Most can be treated at home following some basic tips which will help to improve symptoms.  

“In rare cases, some stings can be painful and trigger a serious allergic reaction, so if you see lots of swelling and blistering or if there’s pus, which indicates an infection, you should visit your GP or call NHS 111 for expert advice over the phone.  NHS 111 is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week and it can also advise you where to go if you do need medical attention.”

For minor bites and stings follow these basic tips at home:

  • wash with soap and water 
  • place a cold compress (a clean flannel or cloth soaked in cold water) over the affected area to reduce swelling 
  • do not scratch the area as this could cause infection (keep children's fingernails short and clean).

If the bite or sting is painful or swollen, you can also:

  • wrap an ice pack, such as a bag of frozen peas, in a towel and place it on the swelling
  • take painkillers, such as paracetamol or ibuprofen (children under 16 years of age shouldn't be given aspirin) 
  • use a spray or cream that contains local anaesthetic, antihistamine or mild hydrocortisone (1%) on the affected area to prevent itching and swelling
  • following advice from a pharmacist or your GP take an antihistamine tablet to help reduce swelling (antihistamine tablets are available on prescription or from pharmacies).