For lots of families, summer means vacation and fun times spent outside. But if you’re not careful, the great outdoors can also bring bugs and uncomfortable bites and stings! So, how can you protect you and your little ones from nasty critters?
I came across a couple different articles in Real Simple and Family Circle magazines about identifying and protecting your family from bugs and treating bug bites in kids and wanted to share some tips I learned. Hopefully they’ll help you in your own travels this summer.
The Best Bug Protection
Most of us know that DEET-based insect repellant is the most powerful protection against bugs. But, is it safe for your kids? The answer is, thankfully, “Sort of (in moderation!)” … as long as you follow a few guidelines.
According to James R. Roberts, M.D., co-author of the EPA’s Recognition and Management of Pesticide Poisonings report, the first step is only buying products that have a 30 percent or less concentration of DEET, because the higher the dose, the higher the chance there could be side effects/allergic reactions. According to Roberts, ten-percent is more than enough if you’re going to spend up to two hours outside. He recommends parents only use it on their kids once per day and keep it away from eyes, hands, or any skin areas that will be covered by clothing. And schedule bath time before bed to get off all the DEET so they’re not left stewing in it overnight.
If you’re still unsure about DEET, you can take a more natural approach by buying a repellant with lemon eucalyptus oil in it. Both DEET and lemon eucalyptus are only safe for kids over 3, so proceed with caution.
And now, some common summer insects … and what to do when they bite!
- Mosquitoes. All of us are annoyed by mosquitoes in the summertime – and they seem to be everywhere! If you want to avoid running into them, stay indoors at dusk and dawn when they are most active, use DEET or lemon eucalyptus oil and wear loose-fitting clothing in light colors, because mosquitoes are attracted to heat and moisture, and dark colors trap the heat. Mosquitoes can transmit a number of diseases, but the most concerning in recent years has been West Nile Virus, which can cause fever, head and body aches and vomiting that appear between 3 and 14 days after being bitten.Because you can’t always stop all mosquito bites, know how to recognize it! Symptoms are typically a soft pink or red bump, or, sometimes hives. To treat, wash with mild soap and water and use a cold compress to reduce swelling. Some people have said that making a paste out of baking soda and water, applying it to the bite, letting it dry and brushing it off will get rid of it. If hives form, use Benadryl and an over-the-counter cream with 1-percent hydrocortisone.
- Hornets/Wasps/Yellow Jackets. All of these bugs attack if they are threatened, so avoid aggressive movements around them. If you find a nest or hive near your home, you should ALWAYS hire a professional to remove it.If you or your kids get stung, you’ll notice a red welt on the skin, and there will be a significant burning sensation. Sometimes a sting can cause itching, light-headedness and hives. If you see the stinger, remove it gently by scraping the surface of the skin with a credit card to lift out the stinger. Then, clean skin with soap and water. Because there is likely to be a bit of pain with this type of insect sting, use ice – 10 minutes on and 10 minutes off, for as much as an hour – or administer an anti-inflammatory pain killer like Advil. For hives, use the same procedure as outlined above for mosquito bites. A small percentage of people are seriously allergic to bees, wasps and other stinging insects and can have anaphylaxis. If your kids have never been stung before or tested for allergies, watch for swelling of the throat or tongue, difficulty breathing, etc. Call 911 immediately if any of these signs appear!
- Flies. Fly bites can be painful. And it’s often hard to see them coming!Fly bites are marked by pain at the site of the bite and itchy red bumps. To treat, wash the area with soap and water, then apply ice for 15 minutes at a time, several times per day. You can also use an over-the-counter, ammonia-based bite-relief product like After Bite (it’s only about $4 at the drug store) to eliminate pain and itching. As with any other bite, encourage kids to avoid scratching, as that can break the skin and cause infection.
- Spiders. To avoid inviting spiders into your home, regularly sweep or vacuum corners and under furniture to get rid of any potential webs. Check out cool, dark, quiet spaces like dresser drawers or unsealed boxes, because spiders like to hang out there! Check shoes before putting them on to go outside.You’ll recognize a bite because it will look like a pimple or a sore. Sometimes a bite will be accompanied by muscle cramps, chest pain and nausea. To treat apply ice every few hours – the ones your kids are awake – for the first 72. Hold the ice in place for 20 minutes (it should feel so cold it’s uncomfortable). Ice works for spider bites because it slows the rate that the enzymes in the venom move through the body. Elevating the body part can also help reduce swelling and prevent venom from getting into the blood stream. If you can, capture and kill the spider. This can help a doctor identify which type of spider caused the bite if symptoms get serious and also rule out other types of infections whose symptoms resemble spider bites.
- Ticks. Ticks can spread dangerous Lyme disease, a disease that can cause long-term, lifelong health problems. To avoid them, don’t hike or let kids play unprotected in regions you know Lyme disease is prevalent. Whenever you’re in wooded or long-grass areas, reduce skin exposure with boots, long pants tucked into socks and long-sleeved shirts. Also consider using DEET, and wear light colors so you can spot any ticks that climb on board. Always do a tick check after hikes or long outdoor play sessions.If your kids get bitten by a tick, use alcohol-sterilized tweezers to get rid of the entire tick by slowly pulling it straight out. Symptoms of a tick bite are usually obvious – you’ll see the tick on the skin. It can be as small as one millimeter. However, sometimes the tick falls off before you see it. Kids can also have redness, itching and burning around the bite. After you get the tick out, put it in a small container filled with rubbing alcohol to kill it. Clean the bite area with soap and water. Keep an eye out for a bull’s eye rash or flu-like symptoms, both indications of Lyme disease that can appear as much as three months after the bite occurs.
Here’s hoping everyone stays safe and bug-bite free this summer! Below is a song we wrote about slipping into autopilot as a parent, “Train on the Track.” Although it’s easy to be on autopilot during a long summer weekend with your kids, it’s important to take the time to check them for ticks and other insects. Happy vacationing!