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bug bites on children

Is It A Bug Bite or Something Worse?

Spring and summer are all about being outdoors. The amazing BBQs, the long hikes, and fun campouts are all what makes this time of the year one of the best. But you know what is not special or fun? THE BUGS! Although most stings and bug bites on children are harmless and do not cause any significant illness, it brings many parents to the emergency room with worries of sickness or infection.

Most of the time, insect bites cause some local irritation. However, in rare instances, children develop allergic reactions and skin infections. In addition, ticks and mosquitoes can transmit certain illnesses. As a parent, it is important to know when to worry and when to relax and simply treat with over-the-counter (OTC) medicine.

Today, let’s tackle some common questions about bug spray and the potential dangers of insect bites.

Is DEET dangerous for my child?

DEET is the most common active ingredient in insect repellent. It is currently considered the best defense against insects. It’s repelling effects usually last between 2 to 5 hours depending upon the amount that is sprayed on and the percentage of DEET.

DEET is actually a very safe agent when used on the skin.

There has been no direct evidence that using DEET harms the body. There has been some reported allergic reactions to DEET when applied to the skin, but these reactions are extremely rare. If you are going to use a bug spray with DEET, look for one with a percentage of 10-30%.

Do not use DEET-containing insect repellents on infants younger than 6 months old.

Does natural bug spray really work?

Yes! There are many organic bug sprays on the market that work well for a day at the park or a BBQ.

These sprays typically contain essential oils found in plants, such as citronella, cedar, eucalyptus, or soybean.

Natural bug sprays tend to work for a shorter duration of time and should be reapplied more frequently.

In addition, the effectiveness against tick bites is not well established. If you are planning a hike in a wooded area, especially in a state that has ticks with reports of Lyme’s disease, it is important to take this into consideration.

Some bugs bites on children are extremely itchy. What can I use to help soothe the itch?

Most bug bites will cause local redness, itching, and discomfort. An over-the-counter cream or antihistamine is usually all you need to alleviate the symptoms!

I also love natural remedies, such as baking soda, oatmeal, apple cider vinegar, and coconut oil, to soothe the itch of bug bites on children.

The bug bite is getting increasingly more red and painful to touch. Should my child see a doctor?

Yes! We all have bacteria present on our skin. The most common skin bacteria are staph and strep. Typically, they do not cause any harm or infection. However, when there is a break in the skin, most commonly caused by a bug bite or scratch, the bacteria can get underneath the skin and cause infection, such as boils, abscesses, and cellulitis.

Signs of infection include:

  • Increasing redness
  • Swelling
  • Tenderness to the touch
  • Fever

A boil or abscess will present as a tender mass underneath the skin. If your child is displaying these symptoms, see your pediatrician immediately.

My child got bit by a bug this morning and now has a full body rash? Is this normal?

Sometimes children can have an allergic reaction to insect bites or stings. They can develop itchy red patches across their bodies with no other symptoms. Most often an OTC antihistamine will help to relieve the itch and temporarily resolve the rash.

There are certain insects, such as bees, fire ants, and wasps, that can cause serious reactions, known as anaphylaxis, if your child is allergic. These reactions typically affect the skin as well as breathing. Along with a rash, your child may complain of difficulty breathing and chest tightness.

These types of reactions are medical emergencies and need prompt intervention. If you have an Epi-pen, administer it immediately, and call 9-1-1 for help.

If your child has a known life threatening allergy to certain insects, never leave home without an Epi-pen.

My child has a weird red circle that looks like a bullseye or target lesion. What is it?

The early phase of Lyme’s disease is characterized by a flat, red ring or bullseye rash. It develops in 75% of those who have been bitten by a tick infected with Lyme’s disease. The rash tends to appear sometime between 3 days to 3 weeks after the bite and spreads outward.

If your child presents with this type of rash, see your pediatrician immediately, as early intervention is important.

My child got a mosquito bite and now has a full body rash and fatigue. Should I worry about Zika?

The most common symptoms of Zika are fever, rash, joint pain, and conjunctivitis (red eyes). ThisĀ virus is transmitted by an infected mosquito of the Aedes aegypti species. Zika is a virusĀ in the same family as yellow fever, West Nile, chikungunya, and dengue. A person with this virus might also experience headaches or muscle aches. The symptoms typically last from 2 to 7 days.

For most children, Zika is a self limiting illness that doesn’t cause long lasting complications. It is dangerous for a pregnant woman or a woman planning on getting pregnant.

If your child is showing symptoms of Zika, see your pediatrician.

Final Thoughts on Treating Bug Bites in Children

Most insect bites are harmless and do not cause any significant illness. However, I always advise all parents with concerns to have their child evaluated by their pediatrician.

Please remember to always apply bug spray on your child 15-20 minutes before going outside and wear protective clothing. It’s also a great idea to have a first aid kit handy with bug bite essentials!

~Dr. Katie

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