Summer is here and parents are bugging me about protecting themselves and their children from mosquitoes and other summer insects. Let me try to bite into this problem and provide a few solutions that hopefully will not sting.
First, the best way to avoid insect bites is to avoid areas where mosquitoes tend to nest or gather. Those areas include stagnant pools of water, uncovered foods and gardens with flowers in bloom, particularly between dusk and dawn.
Don’t have your child dress like a flower. This means wearing light clothing but avoiding bright floral colors. Khaki, beige, and olive seem not to attract mosquitoes.
Don’t have them smell like a flower either. Certain odors can also attract the bugs. Avoid fragrances in soaps, shampoos, and lotions except for citronella lotions, which do seem to keep the bugs away.
If you want to protect your child beyond clothing and scents, you can try an insect repellent on exposed skin. The most effective compounds are still ones that contain the chemical DEET. Use DEET products sparingly on kids over the age of 2 months. If absorbed too much into the skin, DEET can cause convulsions and even a coma.
You can use a repellant that contains 30% or less of DEET safely if you apply it to exposed skin. You might want to skip your child’s hands if they are prone to suck their thumbs. Regardless, don’t apply more often than once every six hours.
DEET can damage clothing made of synthetic fibers, so consider spraying clothing with another chemical called permethrin. It will protect clothing quite nicely but it doesn’t work as well on skin.
By the way, avoid combination products of sunscreen and insect repellants. You should reapply sunscreen frequently and DEET much less frequently, because combining them in one product can lead to a toxic exposure to DEET.
If a bite does occur, the mainstay of therapy is a cool compresses, antihistamines, and anti-inflammatory medicines like ibuprofen. If nausea, vomiting, difficulty breathing, or swelling of the face or mouth occurs, seek medical attention immediately. These may be signs of a serious allergic reaction.
Hopefully tips like these will take care of business, or “buzziness,” when it comes to dealing with pesky summer insects.
Lewis First, MD, is chief of Pediatrics at The University of Vermont Children’s Hospital and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the Robert Larner, M.D. College of Medicine at the University of Vermont. You can also catch “First with Kids” weekly on WOKO 98.9FM and MyNBC 5, or visit the “First with Kids” video archives at www.UVMHealth.org/MedCenterFirstWithKids.