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The buzz on bee stings

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My family and I have regular outings in the park, and lately, I’ve been seeing a lot of bees. So far, my son has never been stung. How can I keep the bees away? If he is stung, how do I know if it’s serious?

For most children, bee stings are merely a painful reminder that summer has its downsides. Most of the time, signs and symptoms of a bee sting are minor and include instant, sharp burning pain at the sting site; a red welt at the sting area; a small, white spot where the stinger punctured the skin; and a slight swelling. For minor reactions, simple home treatment is all that’s necessary.

If your child has been stung by a bee, wasp, hornet, or yellow jacket, first, determine the severity of the swelling. The two greatest risks from most insect stings are allergic reaction (which can be fatal), and infection (more common and less serious).

Seek immediate medical attention if any of the following symptoms are present, as these could include a severe allergic reaction, known as anaphylaxis:

• Large areas of swelling

• Abnormal breathing

• Feeling of tightness in the throat or chest

• Dizziness

• Hives

• Fainting

• Nausea or vomiting

• Persistent pain or swelling

If the reaction does not appear to be an allergic one, follow these instructions for home treatment:

• Bees leave behind a stinger attached to a venom sac. Do not try to pull it out, as this may release more venom. Instead, gently scrape it out with a blunt-edged object, such as a credit card or dull knife.

• Wash the area carefully with soap and water.

• Apply a cold ice pack, wrapped in a cloth, for a few minutes.

Consider giving your child acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Motrin) for pain relief, as needed. Contact your child’s pediatrician if a large localized reaction (greater than three to four inches in diameter) occurs, if there is increasing pain, swelling, redness, drainage of pus, or fever, or if any symptoms last for more than a day or two. These could be evidence of an infection.

Some, but not all, stings can be prevented. Sugary drinks, brightly-colored clothing, and strong fragrances or perfumes may attract some insects, so try to keep your child away from them during outdoor activities. Also, be sure to advise him not to touch hives or nests.

It’s good to remember that virtually all species of bees are non-aggressive, and that the old axiom holds true most of the time: if you leave them alone, they will leave you alone. It’s good to be prepared, but you will most likely be able to share the park without getting a bee in your bonnet.

Updated 6:59 pm, October 28, 2016
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