The Basics of Bug Bites
The great outdoors is calling, and we (and our kiddos) can’t wait to answer its call. Being out in nature is a wonderful way to rest, recharge, and boost endorphins. Of course, the woods are lovely, dark, and deep – and they are also full of pesky bugs who will not hesitate to chomp on you and yours. Today, let’s talk about bug bites: preventing, recognizing, and treating them.
Preventing Bug Bites
- Prevention is really the best proactive measure. Here are some tips to minimize bug bites in the first place:
- If your family is outside and near wooded areas, wear long sleeved shirts and long pants.
- Use insect repellent: products that contain up to 30% DEET are effective and safe for children as young as 2 months old.
- When you get back inside, do a thorough skin check to make sure there are no ticks embedded, and wash any visible bites with soap and water to keep them clean. Stand with arms extended in the shape of a ‘T’ and look for bites or embedded ticks in key places: groin, underarm, waist, behind the ears, in the scalp.
- If you own a home and live in an area with a particularly high population of mosquitoes and other insects, consider professional pest control options for your backyard.
- If you are a gardener, look into growing plants, such as citronella, lemongrass, mint, and several others – they can help repel bugs naturally.
- Bug repellant torches, candles, and other products can also be useful, but at the end of the day, insect repellant spray and appropriate clothing are your best defense.
Recognizing Types of Bug Bites
Unless a child is highly allergic to specific bug bites or is bitten by a tick, the risk associated with bug bites is likely small. Bug bites can be uncomfortable, itchy, and painful, but most of them don’t warrant extreme concern. Recognizing them can sometimes be difficult because their appearance varies with the type of insect-culprit and their location on the body. If a child gets bitten on the eyelid or ear, or in a part of the body that is more confined, the swelling may look quite dramatic.
Some people seem to react more strongly to bug bites than others, but this doesn’t mean that they are “allergic” to mosquitoes or other insects. A very common misperception is that if you get a big red reaction around the bite, then you must have an allergy, but this just isn’t the case. You may get an impressive inflammatory response to the bite, but unless you break out in hives, get eye and/or lip swelling and wheezing, or symptoms which are typical of allergic reaction, it’s probably not an allergy.
So, how do bug bites differ from allergic reactions, pimples, or other concerns? Well, in addition to some redness and swelling, bites may feature a center pinpoint hole, called a punctum. Mosquito bites are usually larger, single bites. Bee stings are typically associated with more localized swelling in a large area of the soft tissue around the bite. Flea bites are tiny and very itchy; ant bites are larger and are often only mildly itchy.
Treating Bug Bites
At the end of the day though, does it matter? Unless there’s an allergic reaction going on, it probably doesn’t unless the bite is from a tick. The treatment is simply supportive care and symptom management. Keeping the area clean, maybe some anti-itch cream, and leaving it alone. That’s it. There are a few non-tick, bug bite-related situations that would call for medical attention, but they are quite rare:
- Secondary skin infection caused by intense itching – watch for spreading redness, warmth, puss, abscess, and possibly fever
- A severe allergic reaction or anaphylaxis – watch for hives, itching and swelling in areas other than the sting site, stomach upset, difficulty breathing, and/or swelling of the tongue or throat.
- “Cauliflower ear” – if the bite occurs on or inside the ear, swelling can be a serious issue. It’s an enclosed space, so the pressure can compromise blood flow and oxygen delivery to the ear, resulting in permanent damage to the cartilage. Drainage is then required to release the pressure so that blood flow can resume. Bites don’t usually cause this extreme condition, but they can get uncomfortably close.
Again, most bug bites are easily treated at home, with the main goal being relief of pesky symptoms, such as itching. Ice packs, topical hydrocortisone ointment, and calamine lotion can help reduce swelling and itch. If a small child is bitten, keep an eye on them and encourage them to resist scratching the bites in order to help them heal faster, as well as understand the nature of bug bites.