Banish bug bites: Helpful tips in protecting children

Use the right repellent to keep kids tick- and mosquito-free

A girl plays outside. Wearing insect repellent outdoors will help you avoid bug bites.

Ah summer! It usually progresses this way: school gets out, the sun comes out and then come the mosquitoes. It’s tough to know the safest and most effective way to protect your little ones from the bites. So what are the basics?

It’s most important to prevent bites from mosquitoes and ticks. These two pests can cause itchy and uncomfortable bites. They also carry and spread diseases. The types of disease they carry depend on where you live. Ticks can spread Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever. Mosquitoes can spread West Nile, Malaria and other illnesses.  We call these diseases vector-borne illnesses and they are preventable. Stop the bite, and you will prevent the infection.

Tick bite prevention and repellent

  • Avoid places where ticks like to hang out such as heavily wooded areas or places with tall grass.
  • They can be present year round but you’re most likely to find them April through September.
  • If you’re going to be in these locations you should wear close toed shoes.
  • You should check yourself and your little ones for ticks after being outdoors. They often move to warm areas so check the hairline well.
  • We’ll leave the how-to on removing an embedded tick for another blog but you can always call your doctor’s office if you need advice on this one.

If you are looking to specifically repel ticks there is more evidence behind the use of DEET (details on DEET below). Additionally something called Premethrin can be sprayed on clothing (not skin). There are some brands of outdoor clothing that are treated with Premethrin before you buy them. This works well and lasts 20-25 washes, but it is best suited for older children and adults.

Mosquito bite prevention and repellent

  • Most bites happen at night between the time the sun goes down and the following morning.
  • Mosquitoes are most concentrated around sitting areas of water and come out between dusk and dawn.
  • Clothing such as pants and long sleeved shirts offer some protection.
  • If you have a little one there are mosquito nets available for most car seats and strollers. These work great for keeping mosquitoes and other flying insects of baby during night time walks or at outdoor events.

For mosquitoes, products containing DEET have the longest track record and history of use so it is the most often recommended product. This product works for ticks and mosquitoes. Picaridin is another commonly used replant that was widely used in Europe before coming to the U.S. It works for mosquitoes but not as well for ticks. DEET and Picaridin have been shown to be safe for use in children but it’s important they are used properly.

Choosing the right repellent

For children under 2 months
It is best to avoid the use of bug repellents in any child younger than 2 months of age. If you have a special situation or think your child needs protection at a younger age ask your doctor for recommendations. After 2 months it is time to sort through your options.

Successfully applying bug repellent
Currently, repellent you apply directly to your skin and clothing are the only kinds that are recommended for children. Don’t waste your money on the clips, bands, lights, fans and so on. Unfortunately, they don’t work as well.

Apply sprays where there is good ventilation or outside. Avoid spraying directly on the face. Spray in your hand then apply to the face avoiding the eyes and mouth. Avoid applying repellent to a young child’s hands (you may as well spray it directly in their mouth). Spray over but not under clothing. After you go inside wash the repellent off with soap and water.

Using DEET insect repellent safely

When using repellent with DEET, pay attention to the concentration or percentage shown on the bottle:

  • Choose products that contain 30 percent or less DEET. The percentage correlates to how long the product will protect your child. Choose the lowest percent that will cover you for the time you need.
  • As a general rule, products containing 10 percent DEET or Picaridin will protect you for up to two hours so choose these for a back yard bonfire or evening walk.
  • Products containing 30 percent will protect you for about five hours, so use these for an evening baseball game or other longer outdoor activity.

Re-application of DEET (applying a second coat) is not recommended.

  • There have been rare reports of neurological problems like seizure occurring after use.
  • Read the bottle, follow the directions and if in doubt go in doors.

Natural alternatives

  • Citronella oil can be effective, but it’s not as studied as DEET and only lasts about 20-30 minutes.
  • Lemon eucalyptus oil is also new to the research scene, it has been shown to work for two to five hours.
  • Oils, like sprays can cause skin irritation and you should look at the packaging to see if it is safe for use in younger children. Most of these recommend your child be at least 3 years of age before you use it.

Hopefully this helps clear up some of the info about repellents. Avoiding bites is important. Here’s to a bite-free summer!

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Posted In Children's, Health Information, Healthy Living

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