A Sanford Health pediatrician prescribes a cream for bug bites that builds on the idea that sometimes home remedies can be effective tools in alleviating discomforts.
It’s safe to say Dr. Christine Arnold, a pediatrician in Mitchell, South Dakota, has seen more than a few kids with mosquito bites come through her clinic. Based on her professional and personal experience, she can tell you these bites can become a problem.
When she was a child she dealt with it personally. Mosquito bites haunted her.
“For some reason I attracted them,” she said. “I would always swell up huge — like five inches in diameter. I remember it hurting a lot.”
So now when parents bring in a child with a big bite, they’re very concerned about possible infection. Is my child having an allergic reaction? Why did it swell up so big? How can you tell the difference between a normal mosquito bite and an infection, especially when they swell up so much?
Children vulnerable to mosquitoes
They’re standard and justifiable questions and Arnold, who was named one of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s 2018 Child Immunization Champions, answers them based on knowledge and experience.
“It is normal for children’s bites to swell up between the ages of 2 and 10,” she said. “A typical person will not have an exaggerated reaction after that stage. But when they do swell up like that, they hurt.”
It got her thinking. Maybe there is a better way. Maybe you can look at a swollen bug bite, assess its symptoms, and address them with one cream.
So she started with lidocaine, which works to quiet the pain. She added a steroid cream to take away the itch, then added an antibiotic cream to ward off future infection.
“If you put it on four or five times for the first two days it brings down the swelling, it takes away the itch and it prevents it from getting infected,” Arnold said. “If you can do that, it alleviates a lot of concern and anxiety with parents.”
The irony is that most times parents worried about infection learn their child just has a big bug bite. Infection can remain a future threat, however, because children want to scratch the affected area.
“Kids will just tear at their skin,” Arnold said. “If they’re not infected, they can become infected because of that. So this was just logical sense.”
Arnold’s cream attracts attention
In time, Arnold, a pediatrician with Sanford Health Mitchell since 2007, received media attention for the cream. Television and newspaper reports in 2016 moved the story along via the internet and the pediatrician had a small-time phenomenon on her hands.
“We got a lot of phone calls,” Arnold said. “Calls from way down south — we even got one from Hawaii.”
Those interested in using the cream can go through their local Walmart or Walgreens pharmacy and have their pharmacist contact the Walmart or Walgreens pharmacies in Mitchell for the compounding ingredients and instructions on how to create the cream.
Avoid getting bitten
Arnold’s fight with mosquitoes doesn’t end there. She has also done a series of tests involving her children that delve into the art of warding the bugs off. There is no reason for bug cream, after all, if you don’t get bitten.
To that end, she sent two of her children outside in a mosquito-rich environment. One was coated in vanilla extract, the other in a more conventional over-the-counter DEET product used to keep mosquitoes away.
Both the home and the commercial remedies worked just fine. But different people attract mosquitoes in different ways, she noted, so she made the children switch repellents and try it again.
Same result. But what if the mosquitoes just weren’t biting?
“So then I sent out one with vanilla extract and one with no repellent at all,” Arnold said. “And the one without got attacked.”
She’s since come up with a strategy for children that involves coating clothing in a highly concentrated DEET product and covering hands and face in vanilla extract. It is optimally effective, but also safe.
“Your kids aren’t going to be ingesting some kind of chemical that way,” Arnold said. “So you have the best of both worlds.”
Arnold will continue to have an open, but professionally sensitive attitude toward home-grown solutions to minor physical discomforts. Sometimes the old ways should stay in the past. More often than many might think, however, home remedies stand up to scientific scrutiny.
“Sometimes you have to ask yourself: ‘Why do these cultural and generational things get passed down from generation to generation?’” she said. “A lot of times, it’s because they work. That’s when I become interested.”
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