HOW TO PREVENT & TREAT INSECT BITES

Written by Dr Nické Theron, Pediatrician.

Summer is a time for lots of outside play, hiking, swimming and staying outside when the heat starts to fade in the evenings. Unfortunately, these are all prime spots for bugs to spoil your fun! So how do you prevent insect bites? And if you are too late to prevent them, how do you treat it?

My 3 year old son loves exploring the bushes for bugs and he enjoys catching them to examine them or keep them in a box. In the last week we have had a praying mantis, a snail and a caterpillar living in a container in our house! It still gives me the creeps, but he learns so much through this kind of play. So firstly, relax! Most insect bites are only irritating for your little one, it is very rare for a bite to be dangerous.

Every child responds differently to insect bites, some will have no reaction while others can have a bigger release of histamine (the substance released in your body in response to an allergen) and they might need immediate medical attention (this is luckily very rare). Histamine causes the itchiness and an increase of blood flow to the area (which causes the redness and swelling). Generally an insect bite presents as a small, itchy red bump, occasionally with a blister. This mostly resolves spontaneously after a few days. If the skin over the lesion is broken by scratching it can become infected with pus forming.

How can you help your little one when they have an insect bite? 

  • For a bee-sting, remember to gently scratch off the sting with a flat, blunt object. Squeezing it with tweezers will release more of the venom into the skin.
  • Ticks on the other hand, needs to be gripped firmly with a tweezer and pulled until it releases to remove it asap. Monitor your child for signs of headache, fever or body ache and if they develop this within 7 days of the bite, see your doctor and show them the tick bite so they can be treated for tick-bite fever.
  • If you suspect a spider bite, see a doctor if the area remains very painful, if the bite-site seems infected or if your child develops vomiting, abdominal pain, fever or headache.
  • Wash the area with soap and water
  • Apply a cool compress for a few minutes. This decreases the blood-flow and thus decreases the amount of histamine which reaches the area.
  • Give your child Paracetamol (for a painful sting) and an oral antihistamine if it is severely itchy.
  • You can apply a small amount of steroid cream to the bite to relieve the itchiness. (Hydrocortisone 1%)
  • For those pesky mosquito-bites: keep your child’s nails short, dress them in loose clothing and keep them cool. You can apply calamine lotion or a moisturizing lotion to the bite. Cover it with a  bandage and distract your child to prevent them from scratching.
  • Avoid using antihistamine ointments: the dosage is unpredictable and it may irritate or burn the skin.
  • If there is any signs of a secondary bacterial infection (the skin around the bite-site becomes increasingly warm, red, swollen and painful) your child will need antibiotics and possible drainage of the pus. 

If your child is very allergic to the bee-sting or insect bite, they may develop anaphylaxis (this is an allergic emergency, seek medical help immediately). Signs of anaphylaxis can include swelling of the lips / tongue, developing a hoarse voice, coughing, wheezing, choking, struggling to breathe, a widespread rash, fainting or becoming very pale a few minutes to hours after the insect bite.

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

John 16:33

To prevent all of the above unpleasantness here are my top tips to keep biting-critters as far as possible from your little one: 

  • Cover-up : wear long-sleeve clothes, pants tucked into socks when hiking or outside at dusk/dawn. Make use of mosquito-nets in children’s rooms or have screens in front of the windows. 
  • Insect repellent applied on skin: It has been proven that insect repellent containing DEET (e.g. Tabard or Peaceful sleep) is the most effective for the longest time and is safe to use in babies older than 2 months. This chemical has been used and studied since the 1960s! To use it safely only apply on exposed skin, stay away from their mouth, eyes, nose and areas of broken skin.  It is better to apply on your hands first and then apply on your baby.
  • Another type of active ingredient, permethrin can be sprayed on clothes or mosquito nets and works well for ticks and mosquitos. This is also found in electrical appliances with mats / oils that is plugged in to repel insects. This ingredient was found to have some side effects such as coughing, eye irritation and studies are not conclusive on long term effects. So it is important to calculate your risk vs benefit. If you are in a malaria area it is good to use it, but maybe not every day in your home.
  • Essential oils such as citronella, eucalyptus, cedar and peppermint can help to repel insects for shorter time periods. Although it is more natural, it can also cause irritation on the skin so use with caution.
  • Switch on the fan! Moving air also keeps the mosquitos away.

I hope this information helps you to enjoy the outdoors without worrying too much about those pesky zooming noises!

Please share with us your tips and tricks on how YOU keep your family safe.

(Picture: PEXELS stock photo.)

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