It’s a familiar scene: it’s been a nice lazy Sunday hanging out in the yard, grilling hot dogs while the kids run around getting cooled off in the sprinklers. You come in just as it’s getting dark, only to notice your kids are itching up a storm. Sure enough, they’ve been bitten all over by mosquitos.
With summer comes an increase in insects and insect bites. Bees, mosquitoes, wasps, ticks, and more can cause issues ranging from the annoying (itching and swelling) to the potentially life-threatening (allergic reactions). Let’s cover how you can prevent issues, and what to do if your child experiences a bite or sting from an insect. In this blog, we’ll be focusing on insects that are commonly encountered outdoors.
The first step is to prevent bug bites and stings in the first place. There are several steps you can take.
Mosquitoes: Many products exist in the marketplace today that can help prevent mosquito (and tick) bites. These include sprays, creams, and even bracelets that contain DEET or permethrin. Look for products with a 10-30% DEET concentration for kids. Products with a concentration of DEET more than 30% do not provide any extra protection. Chemical repellents with permethrin should only be applied to clothing and not directly onto the skin. There are some natural sprays out there as well, but they may not be as effective. Insect repellents are not recommended for children younger than 2 months of age. For all around protection from mosquitoes, try a few citronella candles placed around your sitting area.
Ticks: as stated above, products with DEET and permethrin can help keep away ticks as well as mosquitoes. If you’re hiking or will be out in the woods, dress your kids in long pants with long socks and good shoes. The more you can “seal off” your child’s skin with their clothes, the better the chances that they won’t be bitten by a tick. When you get home, do a thorough check of your child’s body for any ticks while getting your child dressed or before their bath.
Bees and wasps: walking barefoot outdoors can be a risk factor for getting stung. Avoid strong flowery scented lotions or sprays on your child. Wearing lighter clothing may also help. Let them know that if they see a bee or wasp to just remain still or calmly walk away. Swatting at one can only cause trouble!
It’s pretty much a given that bug bites will occur, so it’s important to know how to deal with them and treat any issues that can arise. Insect bite treatment varies, so we’ve broken it down by the type of bug.
Mosquitoes: in some other parts of the world, mosquitoes are known to spread disease. While that’s usually not the case here, you still have to keep mosquito-spread diseases in mind if your child develops more symptoms than those related to the bite side. Nevertheless, you will have to deal with the itchy aftermath, in most cases. Carry some anti-itch cream with you. If you have none on hand, some ice can help constrict the blood vessels around the bite and alleviate some of the itching. Remind your child not to use their nails while scratching to prevent developing cuts on top of the bites. Benadryl or another type of antihistamine can help with itchiness. Also, hydrocortisone 1% cream can be applied to the bite site to help with swelling and itching, if there are no signs of infection of the wound.
Ticks: first off, you will need to remove the tick with a pair of tweezers. Get the tweezers as close to your child’s skin as you can get, then pull out the tick. Don’t yank it out, pull it out at a moderate, consistent pace. Take a picture of it once it’s out for identification purposes in case they’re needed. It is also recommended to freeze the tick in a zip-top bag so it can later be tested if more serious symptoms arise.
One of the biggest worries with tick bites is Lyme disease. Watch out for a rash that may appear within the first three-30 days after infection (may take on the characteristic bullseye appearance). Keep an eye out for headaches, fevers, chills, joint pain, and/or swollen lymph nodes. If your child has any of these signs after a tick bite, or even after a suspected tick bite, take them in to their doctor’s office to get checked out.
Bees and wasps: the good news is, as intensely painful as stings from these insects can be, the initial pain is usually as bad as it gets. Swelling and redness will occur but should go away within a few hours. Extreme swelling and pain can occur with a large local reaction and may require more aggressive management. Benadryl may help provide some comfort from the swelling and other symptoms. Also, hydrocortisone 1% cream can be applied to the sting site to help with swelling and itching, if there are no signs of infection of the wound. For a small percentage of people, these stings can cause a life-threatening anaphylactic reaction or additional symptoms associated with a large local reaction, such as nausea and vomiting. An anaphylactic reaction can result in severe swelling, hives, wheezing, dizziness, lightheadedness, and/or nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. If any of these occur, have your child seen right away. It will be necessary to carry an epinephrine injection device for any future reactions if your child has suffered an anaphylactic reaction. Remember that an epinephrine injection should be given immediately and not delayed if your child is suffering from an anaphylactic reaction.
No matter the insect, sometimes your child may develop an infected insect bite. This would manifest as worsening swelling, tenderness of the area, larger area of redness, warmth, and pus draining from an open wound (if present). When to see a doctor depends on how bad it is (for example, did your child scratch an itchy bite a little too hard?). When in doubt, contact your child’s pediatrician or local pediatric urgent care for assistance.
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