Bugs are part of our summer landscape, along with sunshine, barbecues and baseball. And while most bug bites amount to little more than an itchy nuisance, some do carry viruses and infections. We’ve all heard about the increase in concern over the Zika virus, but there is also yellow fever, Lyme disease, West Nile virus and babeosis.
The best way to combat bites is to prevent them.
Repellent: What to know before you buy
Repellents work on biting insects like mosquitoes, flies and ticks, but they don’t repel stinging insects like bees and hornets.
Lotions that combine DEET and sunscreen might sound like a good idea, but they aren’t. Sunscreen needs to be reapplied every few hours, but you shouldn’t overexpose your child to DEET. Apply each product separately, while always following the directions on the label.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends using a product with one of the following active ingredients: DEET, Picaridin, PMD or IR3535 (Avon Skin so Soft) for skin and clothing. How effective it is and how long the protection lasts varies considerably among different products and insects.
DEET is a highly effective repellant, but it is important that it’s used correctly. Higher percentages of DEET increase the length of protection, not the effectiveness, so choose the strength that is safe for your child and apply it only once per day:
- DEET offers the best and broadest protection against biting insects.
- The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that repellents used on children contain no more than 30 percent DEET.
- Higher percentages of DEET increase only the length of protection, not the effectiveness.
- DEET should not be used on children under 2 months of age.
Picaridin is a nontoxic, colorless, odorless synthetic ingredient found in some bug repellents. While it is relatively new in the United States, it has been used in Europe for more than 10 years. It is similar to DEET and provides long-lasting protection against bugs. Products with Picaridin can be used on babies as young as 2 months.
Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus (OLE or PMD) is a natural oil that has proven to be effective for protection against mosquitoes, but not ticks. It has not been studied in young children, and not recommended for use in children younger than 3 years old.
I see many parents who express a desire for natural products such as citronella, peppermint oil, and lemongrass. While they are considered safe, research is ongoing to determine how well they work. It’s best to stick with an active ingredient registered by the EPA, such as DEET, Picaridin or PMD.
Repellent: How to apply
Once you’ve chosen a bug repellent, it’s important that you use it properly in order for it to be safe. Here are some tips:
- Always follow the instructions for application, and help younger kids apply repellent safely.
- Apply product only to exposed skin. Avoid hands, eyes, cuts, or irritations.
- Wash your hands after application, and wash the repellent off when your child is done playing outside.
- Spray repellent outside only and never near food.
More smart ways to keep bugs at bay:
- Avoid being outside from dusk until dawn — these are peak mosquito hours.
- Avoid wooded and brushy areas with tall grass.
- When outdoors, be careful eating or drinking uncovered foods or beverages, which can attract insects.
- Don’t go barefoot. Wear closed-toe shoes when walking in grassy areas.
- Wear long sleeves and long pants. Tuck pant legs into socks or boots.
- Always do a full body check for ticks after going inside.
For more summer safety tips, visit KohlsSafeandHealthy.com. Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin and Kohl’s Cares share the mission of keeping kids in our community safe, healthy and injury free. The Kohl’s Cares Grow Safe & Healthy program provides a trusted educational resource for safety in the home, outdoors and on the go. The more families know about safety and injury prevention, the healthier they can be.
Learn more about Kimberly Cronsell, MD.