It’s July so we’re officially in summertime, thank goodness. My prescription: warm and outdoor adventures for us all! Obviously if we take the Rx seriously, we’ll all be more likely to get bit. When it comes to bug bites, the most important thing to know for your child (and yourself) is how they will react. Some children get bit all over and hardly react while others will have enormous, and tremendously ITCHY welts all over their body. There truly are children who are mosquito-bite sensitive and children who are not. Some get bit and hardly react while others of us end up with welts in minutes.

In general, bug bites cause a mild irritation to the skin. However, sometimes a more allergic reaction results and persists, even for days causing real discomfort. In these scenarios, it’s safe to use anti-allergy medications (diphenhydramine, etc) for itchiness from bites. It’s also safe to use over-the-counter (OTC) hydrocortisone cream or ointment on bites that aren’t scratched open or raw.

Some tips on how you can help keep your children bug bite free or help them when they do get bit:

Prevention

Prevention is key, clearly. I recommend using insect repellent (many safe choices, see below!) and long sleeves when possible. Just makes things easier. But having grown up in the Midwest (a mosquito haven) I am aware that sometimes they even bite through clothes! Additionally, you should be aware of where your children are playing and the time of day — some insects are more active in the evenings after the heat of midday sun is gone. At home, you should fix broken screens on doors and windows, especially in rooms where children sleep. Lastly, avoid using smelly shampoo and perfumes that sometimes attract insects!

What to Know About Insect Repellent: 

  • Don’t use it with young infants under 2 months of age
  • Only apply it to healthy skin (avoid open scratches or wounds) and it IS okay to apply on the outside of clothes
  • Use a repellent with DEET, which is safe to use and VERY effective at keeping insects away
  • Don’t use combo products (i.e. sunscreen and repellent combination products) — the intervals of reapplication are different

Additional information about insect repellents is available on HealthyChildren.org.

How To Help With Scratching From Bug Bites

For kids scratching at bites like crazy consider:

  • OTC allergy medications – something with diphenhydramine help decrease the sensation of itch. This can be especially effective before bedtime as many children scratch at night in their sleep. Diphenhydramine does often make children sleepy so night-time use can sometimes be best to limit daytime drowsiness. During the day consider using other OTC medicines for allergies that are less sedating and sleepiness-inducing like loratadine and cetirizine. Even though sometimes it’s the sedating effect from diphenhydramine that helps stop itching, research shows that loratadine does help with bumps and redness and itching, too!
  • Use an emery board to soften children’s nails – this will make their nails not as effective at opening skin when they scratch in their sleep (or during the day!)
  • Cover up the bites with band-aids or clothing as a cue for them not to scratch – the cycle of scratching and itching  can go on and on, but avoiding scratching helps them calm down and gradually fade away.

When to See a Pediatrician

Often it’s unnecessary to bring your child to their pediatrician for an insect bite. However, any time a parent is concerned about bites that don’t seem to be resolving as expected, it’s fair to call the nurse and get advice! Rarely insect bites that get bigger and have extending circles of redness or pain in the skin. In this case it can sometimes represent a secondary skin infection. If worried, check in with your child’s doctor!

More information on when to ask your pediatrician can be found here.

This post was written in partnership with KnowYourOTCs.org. In exchange for our ongoing partnership helping families understand how to use OTC (over-the-counter) meds safely they have made a contribution to Digital Health at Seattle Children’s for our work in innovation. I adore the OTC Safety tagline, “Treat yourself and your family with care all year long.” Follow @KnowYourOTCs #KnowYourOTCs for more info on health and wellness.