Summer Health Hazards Part 3: Insect Bites and Poison Ivy

Kids are more likely to get hurt during the summer months than any other time of year. Planning ahead to prevent these health hazards means spending less time in the doctor’s office and more time playing with your kids. We previously brought you parts 1 and 2 in our Truestar Summer Health Hazards Series: Sunburns and Sunstroke. This week, we will focus on how to prevent insect bites and poison ivy as our kids play outdoors this summer.

Insect bites

Insects, including those pesky mosquitoes, are out in full force during the hot summer months. Insects bite all of us, including our young children, leaving our skin feeling itchy. Insect bites can become infected and insects can also transmit serious diseases such as Lyme disease. Learn how to use insect repellents safely to prevent biting insects from harming your child.

Choosing safe insect repellents

Insect repellents that contain DEET, the common active ingredient in repellents, are most effective; however, DEET may be absorbed through the skin causing allergic reactions. High concentrations of DEET can be toxic. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, it is generally safe to use insect repellents with a concentration of 10 to 30% DEET. To ensure the safety of your children, follow these guidelines:

Do not use DEET on infants under two months of age.

Limit the amount of repellent you put on younger children as it gets absorbed though the skin.

Wash all repellent off with soap and water as soon as your child gets back inside.

Apply insect repellents to clothing rather than skin. Don’t let kids handle this product and do not apply it to their hands.

Always follow the product instructions to be safe.

Avoid using a combination of insect repellent and sunscreen. They may not be as effective as two separate products and you will need to reapply more often.

Avoid spraying in enclosed areas and do not use DEET near food.

More tips to prevent insect bites

You should also dress children in light-colored clothing to avoid attracting bugs. Avoid using scented soaps or other products on your child since fragrances can attract insects. Also, keep much of your child’s skin covered with clothing, such as long-sleeved shirts, pants, socks and a hat.

Natural insect repellents that are generally safe for children include those made with citronella, soybean oil and other plant-based materials, such as OFF! Botanicals. It should be noted that the protection offered by natural repellents may not be as long-lasting as products that contain DEET, so use as directed on the label. For example, 2% soybean oil products provide about one-and-a-half hours of protection and citronella products offer about 20 minutes of protection. Products containing 7% DEET provide two hours of protection and products containing 20% DEET provide up to four hours of protection.

Treatments for insect bites

Over-the-counter antihistamines can provide relief to your child who feels itchy. Topical anti-itch cream on the affected area may also help.

It is important to check yourself and your children for ticks before bedtime. If you locate a tick, use tweezers to remove it, place it in a bag and throw it away. See your healthcare practitioner so the tick bite can be properly cleansed with antiseptic. Early detection and removal is important because a tick usually has to be on the skin for 36 hours or more to transmit Lyme disease.

See Homeopathic remedies for insect bites for information.

Poison ivy

If your kids love to play in the yard or park they may come into contact with poison ivy. Poison ivy is a plant that can cause contact dermatitis, an allergic reaction to the oil (urushiol) in the leaves of the plant. Poison sumac and poison oak are other poisonous plants. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, about 85% of the population is allergic to poisonous plants like poison ivy.

Contrary to popular belief, touching a poison ivy leaf will not give you poison ivy. The poisonous oil is only released when the leaf is damaged or torn. Once the oil from the plant gets onto the skin, it does not spread and the rash is not contagious. However, the oil can transfer easily from one object to another, so it can be transmitted easily if the oil has rubbed off on pets, clothing, tools, toys, etc. The oil can remain active for years on an unwashed object.

Treating poison ivy

The rash usually begins as itchy red bumps and blisters and can last up to three weeks. If your child is exposed to poison ivy, here are some steps you can follow:

Immediately wash with soap and water any areas of skin that have come into contact with poison ivy. You have about 5 to 10 minutes to remove the oil before a reaction develops. You also need to wash any clothing or objects that have touched the poison ivy to prevent the oil from spreading. Be sure to scrub under your child’s fingernails.

Oral antihistamines, hydrocortisone ointments, calamine lotion and cool oatmeal baths may give temporary relief for mild reactions. See Homeopathic remedies for rashes for more remedies.

See your healthcare practitioner for severe reactions. Antihistamines or oral steroid lotions or pills may need to be prescribed.

Preventing poison ivy

Teach your kids to recognize poison ivy: It has three leaflets with notched edges. It can grow on a shrub or vine. Teach them the old saying, ‘leaves with three, let them be.’ Show them pictures and point it out if you see it somewhere, without touching it if course!

Stay on the trail: When hiking in the woods or parks, stay on the trails. Tell your kids not to wander into the bushes where they are more likely to come into contact with poison ivy.

Try protection products: There are products available that can actually protect the skin from poison ivy rashes when applied before contact—Ivy Blocker is one lotion. However, this product is only recommended for children ages six and up. Another product, called Tecnu, is an outdoor skin cleaner that helps remove the poisonous oils that can cause reactions. It must be used within two to eight hours of exposure to be effective.

Wishing you and your family a healthy and safe summer!