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Bugging Out: Protecting Your Kids from Creepy Crawlers This Summer

June 26, 2019

Posted in Safety

By Sam Smith, MD, Arkansas Children's Hospital

It's tick season. And mosquito season. And chigger season. Is there any bug that isn't causing us trouble these days? If you and your family are soaking up the summer sun, you're also easy targets for all sorts of disease-carrying insects.

Pediatricians frequently field questions from parents who want to know if it's safe to use insect repellent on their children. Honestly, a repellent with DEET is one of the only prevention methods proven to deter biting bugs. Research backs up that the stronger the DEET concentration in an insect repellent, the longer it lasts and more effective it is.

But it's essential to be careful about how you use insect repellant. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends the highest concentration of DEET used on children should be 30 percent. They also suggest you only use a repellent if your child is over 2 months old. 

There are other repellents available, including those that use picaridin, but research indicates they're much less effective than DEET.

Some families also prefer natural alternatives like essential oils found in citronella and eucalyptus. And don't forget good old-fashioned Skin So Soft. All of these are options, but they may last only a few hours, require reapplication and still won't prevent those creepy crawlers from infiltrating your patio time.

There are some critical guidelines for families looking to fend off insects with repellents:

  • Never apply bug spray directly to a child's face. You can avoid this by spraying some on your own hands and gently rubbing it on your child's face, being careful to keep it away from the eyes and mouth.
  • Spray insect repellent in an open area, so neither you nor your child inhales it.
  • Using more repellent doesn't make it work better; only use enough to cover exposed skin and clothing lightly.
  • Be sure to wash kids' skin with soap and water using repellent.
  • Don't use bug sprays on open or irritated skin. (That means keep it off the skinned knees or sunburns we see this time of year!)
  • If your child has an allergic reaction to the repellent, immediately wash the area with soap and water. Then call the Arkansas Poison Center at 1-800-222-1222 for additional guidance.

There are some simple actions your family can take to reduce the likelihood of coming in contact with disease-transmitting insects, as well. The best strategy is to avoid areas that attract them – so stay away from stagnant warm water, ranging from puddles to dog bowls. It may also be a good idea to avoid garbage cans, compost piles and flowers beds. Dressing in long pants and sleeves, as well as heavy-duty socks and sturdy shoes, can also protect your child from biting insects.

And while it's not a prevention method, it is important to examine your child's skin after he or she has spent a day playing outside. Look for any raised red marks and be especially vigilant for ticks that might hide under skin folds or shaggy summer haircuts.


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