As far as Kay Klebba is concerned, “summer is for turning cartwheels.” She loves it when her four kids — 15-, 12- and 11-year-old twins — play in the yard of their Shelby Township, Mich., home. Unfortunately, so do the bugs. “We’ve had a really wet spring, and we live right across from a lake. The kids stayed out until just after dark the other night and came in covered with mosquito bites.”
Avoiding the six-legged beasties is next to impossible. “There are about 10 million insect species, and about 75 percent of the world’s animals are insects,” says Tim Forrest, Ph.D., a professor of biology at the University of North Carolina, in Asheville. Most people have a reaction to bites and stings — ranging from barely noticeable bumps to saucer-sized welts. But while you can’t escape bugs altogether, there’s plenty you can do to manage them better.
To Avoid Bugbites …
Dress to repel Bright colors and flowery prints make kids more attractive to insects, as do scented soaps, perfumes and hair sprays, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).
Stay out of their way Most bugs will leave humans alone, Forrest says, “unless you mess with their nest.” Steer clear of known nests and avoid areas near trash cans (beloved by yellow jackets,) stagnant water (mosquito heaven) and fruit trees.
Squirt on the good stuff For kids, the AAP recommends products with at least 10 percent DEET, to be effective but no more than 30 percent. Spray on only as much as needed to cover skin and clothes, have kids wash with soap and water when they go back inside and wash clothes before wearing again.
Make friends with the enemy Children who are excessively frightened by insects tend to overreact and are more likely to be stung. Help your child tap into his curiosity about nature and explore the insect world — on his terms. Watch a spider spinning a web or a bee gathering nectar from a flower. “Just explain that they should be calm and not make any sudden movements,” says Forrest.
How to Handle a Bug Bite or Sting
Go on high alert If your child has been stung, check if there’s a stinger left behind. If so, scrape it away — carefully — with a fingernail or knife blade, says Richard F. Lockey, M.D., a professor of Medicine, Pediatrics and Public Health at the University of South Florida. Then wash the area with soap and water, and apply ice to the sting. Watch your child carefully for signs of wheezing or difficulty breathing, tightness in the throat or chest, swelling of the lips, tongue or face, or any dizziness, fainting, nausea or vomiting. While such intense allergic reactions are relatively uncommon — only an estimated 3 percent of adults and 1 percent of children react that way — they can happen within moments. And in rare instances, they can be fatal. If your child has any of these symptoms, head straight to the emergency room.
Soothe the sting or bite If there’s no allergic reaction, continue with occasional ice for 24 hours. There are other things you can use to relieve the swelling and discomfort, but there’s no solid proof that any of them work. Still, it’s worth a try. “Cortisone cream helps some people, and so do antihistamines,” says Lockey. Some people find relief with a paste made from baking soda or meat tenderizer and water. Others find that applying aloe vera, calendula leaves and even a slice of onion can help.
Keep an eye on it As kids scratch, bites can become infected, and some — like certain spider bites — can leave ugly, ulcerated wounds. “Keep it clean and covered,” says Lockey. “And be patient. While there isn’t much you can do to speed healing, it will go away eventually.”