First Aid Basics for Bites, Stings and Accidental Poisoning

Sooner or later, you may have to deal with your child being stung by a wasp, bitten by a spider, or accidentally swallowing something they shouldn’t have. Here is a guide to stings, bites, and accidental poisonings so you can deal with the (almost) inevitable.  You think this is bad?  Just wait until you discover that they’ve lodged something into their nose!

Bee and Wasp Stings

Fortunately, most stings and bites from insects are minor and can be treated at home. Sometimes, though, children can have a severe reaction which requires more advanced medical treatment.

For Mild Reactions

A mild reaction to a sting or bite includes local pain, swelling, redness, or a sensation of itching, burning, or stinging – and lots of crying!

If your child is having a mild reaction to a bite or sting, here’s what to do:

  • Move your child to a safe place if there is an infestation.
  • Examine the sting site. If your child has been stung by a bee, the stinger will still be lodged in the skin. Remove it carefully using a scraping motion so you do not inject more venom accidentally.  Wasps will not leave a stinger.
  • Wash the site gently with soap and water.
  • Place a cool compress on the site to help with pain and swelling.
  • Dry off and apply a topical ointment (hydrocortisone or lidocaine creams work well) or a paste made with baking soda or colloidal oatmeal, then wrap loosely in gauze.
  • Follow up with medications like ibuprofen (for pain) and/or Benadryl (for inflammation).

For Severe Reactions

Though less common, severe reactions to a sting may occur.  Symptoms include wheezing, gasping, or difficulty breathing, facial swelling (especially around eyes and mouth), fainting or dizziness, rapid heart rate, skin reactions such as hives, and digestive symptoms like cramping, nausea, and vomiting.

If your child is having a severe reaction to a bite or sting, here’s what to do:

  • Have someone call 911.
  • Administer an adrenalin shot through an EpiPen if one is available.
  • If no EpiPen is available, remain with the child until help arrives: Loosen tight clothing, keep them warm, and avoid giving fluids, which can lead to choking or aspiration (where fluids go into the lungs).
  • If the child is vomiting, turn them to one side to prevent choking.
  • If the child loses consciousness or stops breathing, perform rescue breathing and CPR 

Scorpion Stings

Love camping?  Then you’ve probably seen these little critters hanging out in your tent – or worse, your sleeping bag.  If your child gets stung by one of these little guys, you should:

  • Wash the area with soap and water
  • Apply a cold compress
  • Go to the doctor

Scorpion stings require the doctor’s examination because there are many species, some more poisonous than others.  If possible, capture the scorpion that bit your child and bring it in too; this makes it easier for your doctor to determine how serious the bite really is.

Spider Bites

These eight-legged creatures are a common sight in any home.  While there aren’t any monsters under your child’s bed, there may be spiders.  If your child has been bitten by a spider, you should:

  • Wash the area with soap and water.
  • Apply a cold compress.
  • Give ibuprofen to help with pain and swelling.
  • Continue to monitor and clean the site daily.

If, however, you suspect that your child has been bitten by a brown recluse or black widow spider, seek advanced medical treatment.  Brown recluse bites can cause blistering, discoloration, and even necrosis of the skin as well as nausea, pain, and even seizures.  Black widow bites lead to painful all-over muscle cramping, chills, fevers, and headaches. Both are serious.

Accidental Poisoning

From medicine to toothpaste, glue fumes, and Windex, there are plenty of dangerous chemicals around the house.  And your child is at the risk of poisoning if they ingest, touch, or breath these toxic substances – whether they be drugs like Tylenol or oxycodone, chemicals like household cleaners, or gases like carbon monoxide.

Fortunately, around 90% of accidental poisonings can be treated at home with the guidance of the Poison Control Center. Others will require emergency medical treatment.

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of an accidental poison vary, but can include:

  • Swelling, redness or burns around the mouth
  • Difficulty speaking
  • Bleeding from the mouth
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Vomiting
  • Changes in mental status, level of consciousness, or behavior


Treatment depends on factors like the age and weight of the child and the type of poison.  If you suspect a poisoning, look for clues like open pill bottles, or household cleaners as well as stains or odors in the room. 

Call the Poison Help Line (the national number is 800-222-1222) to report the poisoning. They are a great resource for information, and for guidance on what actions to take.

However, call 911 immediately if your child:

  • Is unresponsive, lethargic, or unconscious
  • Is having seizures
  • Is showing signs of respiratory distress (like gasping or wheezing)

While you are waiting for emergency services, there are still actions you can take to help your child:

  • For swallowed poison, remove anything visible (like pills) from the mouth. Do not use syrup of ipecac to induce vomiting, as this can do more harm than good!
  • For poisonous substances on the skin, remove any contaminated clothing and rinse skin in lukewarm water for 15-20 minutes or until help arrives.
  • If the substance is in the eye, flush it gently with lukewarm water for up to 20 minutes.
  • If the substance has been inhaled, be sure to get your child to a well-ventilated place.

When help arrives, give the emergency medical staff information about your child’s age, weight, medical conditions, current medications, and, if known, what poison was ingested.

Have you had to deal with bites, stings, or accidental poisonings? If so, what did you do?

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