Patricia Harris, M.D.

Patricia Harris, M.D., HealthyKids of Gardendale P.C. 

Summer is in full swing and an army of creepy crawlers is patiently waiting outside ready to attack! Mosquitos, fleas, mites, chiggers and ticks abound. Some are found where you least expect them and seem especially attracted to the tender young skin of infants and children. What’s a parent to do?

Avoidance is always the best option, but that would encourage only indoor activities. Enough with the mind-numbing cell phones, tablets, computers, TVs and video-gaming systems. It’s time to go outside and play!

Bug repellent is the obvious answer, but which ones are best for kids? Are they safe for use on infants? Do they need to be reapplied after swimming? Is it OK to use single products that combine protection against bugs and sunburn?

First choose a repellent containing DEET, preferably between 10% to 30%. These products repel most of the above listed invaders. Use lower concentrations for short one- or two-hour periods outdoors, and higher concentrations for longer periods. The higher concentration means that it lasts longer.

DEET should NOT be applied more than once a day and IS NOT recommended for infants under two months of age. To be safe, I recommend 10% or less DEET in infants two – twelve months, as they tend to put everything into their mouths! Infants under two months should wear hats and lightweight, light-colored clothing with long-sleeves and long pants, and should be outdoors for brief periods only.

Repellent should be applied in a well-ventilated area. Apply sparingly to exposed skin and clothing, and avoid areas of cuts or skin irritation, as well as the face and hands of young children.

And don’t forget the sunscreen! Avoid single products containing both DEET and sunscreen, as sunscreen needs to be reapplied frequently. All kids – regardless of their skin tone – should wear sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher. If kids are playing in water, make sure the product is labeled “water-resistant”. Apply sunscreen generously and re-apply often.

Repellents containing Picaridin or oil of lemon eucalyptus are also effective but may not be recommended under certain ages. Always check the product ingredients and follow directions carefully. Remember to wash your child’s skin with soap and water when back indoors, including their clothing before it is worn again.

But despite all these measures, the inevitable happens and you find the tell-tale sign of a mosquito bite on your kid: a round pink or red bump or wheal that itches a lot! What should you do?

First wash the bite with soap and water. Calamine lotion and anti-itch creams can help stop the itch. An ice pack may help reduce swelling. Benadryl or other oral antihistamines are often more effective than topical products to stop itching. Always read the package for age restrictions and dosing instructions. Check with your child’s doctor if you’re not sure.

It is very unusual for anyone to have an allergic reaction to a mosquito bite, but if a significant rash or swelling develops, or your child feels dizzy or sick, or is having trouble swallowing or breathing, seek immediate medical attention!

Most bug bites heal in a few days. If the lesions appear to be spreading, or itching is worse at night, your child may have been exposed to a Scabies mite. If bug bites spread, especially in and around the nose, or become honey-crusted, your child may be developing a secondary skin infection called Impetigo. In either case, you should have your child seen by their doctor, as they may need prescription medication.

Look for an upcoming article on more summertime biting and stinging invaders.

Patricia Harris, MD

HealthyKids of Gardendale, P.C.

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