Buzz… Slap! OUCH!Barbara Gold, MD
Insect Bites - How to Avoid and Treat Them
How often has this happened to you and your kids? Just when you thought you had the perfect day - low 80's, low humidity, bright sunshine - along came a swarm of (pick your favorite insect).
Sometimes, humans and insects just cross paths at the wrong times. But there are ways that you and your children can avoid insect bites and stings - and if all else fails - help ease the pain.
Some basic Dos and Don'ts
- Avoid wooded, brushy and grassy areas when possible
- Throw away or dump out containers that hold standing water like flowerpots or outdoor pet dishes; they are mosquito breeding grounds
- Tuck pant legs into socks
- Wear long sleeves and long pants when possible
- Wear hats for extra protection
- Leave drinks and garbage cans uncovered when eating/drinking outside
- Wear bright colors as they attract bees
- Wear heavily scented soaps/perfumes
Bug Spray Wisdom
"Look for insect repellants (bug sprays) that contain the ingredient DEET," says Barbara Gold, MD, a pediatrician at St. Chris Care at Northeast Pediatrics. "DEET is effective and has been used for over 40 years by millions of people. It helps repel mosquitoes, ticks, fleas and biting flies."
Some of these repellants also come combined with sunscreen, but make sure you still apply regular sunscreen as well. Sunscreen needs to be reapplied frequently but insect repellants don't.
"Products containing DEET must be used properly," says Dr. Gold. "Read the label before application and follow the manufacturer's instructions. For instance, products with DEET cannot be used on babies. They can be sprayed on clothes and skin, but not on the face."
Insect Repellant Tips
- Avoid applying to hands, around the eyes, or areas with cuts or irritated skin
- Don't use products containing oil of eucalyptus on kids under 3
- Store out of children's reach
- After returning inside, wash with soap and water to remove repellent
- If your child experiences a reaction, wash repellent off with soap and water; seek immediate help through a doctor, hospital or Poison Control Center
Ease the Pain
Most insect bites are harmless, but they can feel unpleasant. Stings from bees, wasps, hornets, and yellow jackets, and bites from fire ants usually hurt. Bites from mosquitoes, fleas, and mites usually itch.
Oral antihistamines sold over the counter (OTC) may help relieve itch, while oral OTC drugs, like ibuprofen ("Advil") and acetaminophen ("Tylenol"), may help ease the pain. Topical pain relievers can be put directly on the skin to relieve both pain and itching.
If your child suffers an insect bite or sting, make sure they don't scratch it. Scratching releases more histamine into the skin, which worsens itching. Keep your child's nails short; if skin gets broken in an itchy area, it can lead infection.
Treating Insect Bites
For bee/wasp/hornet/yellow jacket stings, you can scrape the stinger away in a side-to-side motion with straight-edged objects like a credit card. Avoid using tweezers; they can push more venom into skin. After stinger removal wash area with soap and water. Ice or cold compresses can reduce swelling.
Dr. Gold also recommends a homemade remedy consisting of a paste made from powdered meat tenderizer containing MSG ("Accent") and water. The paste, when applied to stings, deactivates the bug's venom.
If your child has a tick bite, treatment is different. Do not use matches, lighted cigarettes, or nail polish remover to force the tick out. Grasp it near the head with tweezers and gently pull it straight out. Seal it in a plastic bag and throw it away.
If your child has an allergic reaction to a bug bite or sting, or a tick bite develops an irritation, banding or target pattern, seek a doctor's advice. If your child experiences difficulty breathing, itching or swelling of eyes, lips, or face, nausea or wheezing, contact a doctor or hospital immediately.