Bees, Wasps, Hornets: Know What To Do If Your Child Is Allergic

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More than 40 people die of insect sting reactions every year in the United States. That doesn't sound like a large number—unless one of those 40 is your child. Medicine has come a long way in reducing the number of flying insect-related deaths, but that doesn't mean much to you and your child if you don't know about these advances in recognizing and treating complications of those insect stingers.

Bee Sting Allergies

Although typically referred to as bee-sting allergies, wasps, hornets and stinging ants can all bring about an allergic reaction that can be life threatening. Usually, bee stings cause immediate pain, itching and localized swelling that subsides in a few hours. But in someone who has an allergy to bee stings, the immune system can overreact to the venom a bee injects into the skin when it stings. This immune-system overreaction can bring on symptoms such as coughing, sneezing, itchy eyes, nausea and diarrhea. In severe cases, it can cause rashes, hives, asthma attacks and a condition called anaphylaxis, which can cause confusion, low blood pressure and trouble breathing and requires emergency life-saving treatment.

Usually, but not always, a first bee sting will not result in an allergic reaction. However, if on a first or subsequent bee sting, you notice more than the typical redness, swelling and itching around the site of the sting, you need to take your child to the doctor, because allergic reactions tend to worsen with subsequent stings. Typically, the doctor will refer you and your child to an allergist, like those at Oak Brook Allergists, who can test for bee sting allergies and recommend preventative and emergency treatments. One of those emergency treatments is an epinephrine auto-injector, also known as a bee sting kit.

What Is an Epinephrine Auto-Injector?

An epinephrine auto-injector is a small device about the size of a felt-tip marker. Parents (or an older child) can use it to inject a dose of epinephrine, which reverses the effects of the allergic episode. It is portable so you and/or your child can always have one close by. You can only get one through a doctor's prescription.

Treating a Bee-Sting Allergic Reaction

When your allergic child is stung by a bee, it's important to act quickly. Symptoms usually begin to appear within minutes. Keep your child calm and have him or her lie down. If you have an auto-injector present, do the following:

  1. Remove the protective cap.
  2. Hold the injector against your child's thigh muscle.
  3. Push or swing the injector tab and hold for several seconds to deliver the dose of epinephrine. There will still be some liquid remaining in the injector.

After the injection, call 911 and wait for emergency personnel or take your child to the emergency room. Complications can occur hours after the bite and treatment, so you need to get your child follow-up care.

When You Can't Be There

Although you want to always be there to protect your child, there will be times when you can't be. School, birthday parties and outside activities all present situations where you might not be around to administer treatment. Therefore, it's important that you teach your child what to do in case of emergency. Children younger than 8 should be taught to remain still and ask others to call 911 and family.

Starting at about 8, children can be taught to administer epinephrine to themselves. Practice the procedure periodically as you would a fire drill. You also need to explain and teach family members and parents of your child's friends about emergency procedures. Meet with your child's school teachers, principal and healthcare providers to explain his or her needs in case of emergency. Keep a bee sting kit at the school and provide a written set of instructions on how and when to use it.


Other than locking your child in his or her room, you cannot fully protect your child from bee stings. However, there are measures that you and your child can take to reduce the likelihood of getting stung.

  • Avoid fruity beverages, perfumes and bright clothing, which attracts bees and flying insects.
  • Learn what wasp and hornet nests look like and avoid them.
  • Avoid flower gardens and going barefoot in the grass.
  • In areas where flying insects are likely, wear tight fitting clothes that leave little or no exposed skin.
  • Do not swat at flying insects.

Also, talk to your child's allergist about prevention measures. He or she may recommend a series of low-dose sting venom vaccinations. This is called immunotherapy, and in some cases, it can significantly reduce the occurrence and severity of bee sting emergencies.