Despite the oppressive triple-digit heat, summer is when many people spend more time outside than usual—summer camping trips, vacations, outdoor sports, beach trips. But the increase in fun in the sun could mean an increase in bug bites and sunburns.
Anna Myers, MD, a pediatrician on the medical staff at Baylor Scott & White McLane Children’s Clinic – Waco Hillcrest, offers some advice on how to protect yourself and your kids from those nagging insects and damaging rays.
1. Watch out for bug bites
Mosquitoes and chiggers are the main culprits when it comes to biting bugs in Texas, Dr. Myers said. But bee stings are also common.
“Early in the course of a bite, you can see just a histamine reaction, which is the body’s reaction to a bite, and it can cause some redness and warmth around the bite,” she said.
If a bite seems to be getting bigger or redder in appearance, is not responding to treatment at home, has a yellow discharge from the bite or a large surrounding ring of redness, Dr. Myers recommends the person be seen by a doctor. If the bite is not severe but is causing some discomfort, she suggests cool compresses and Benadryl by mouth; if the bite is on a child, make sure they are old enough for the Benadryl.
Some people may also have allergies to certain bug bites, which could cause a larger reaction.
“It’s called a systemic or generalized reaction, where you may have a severe allergic response called anaphylaxis,” she said. “You may have shortness of breath or wheezing, hives, generalized itching from head to toe or extreme swelling of other body parts.”
Call 911 if you or someone around you has shortness of breath, weakness, dizziness or loss of consciousness.
If you get stung by a bee, make sure you know how to remove the stinger:
- Scrape horizontally over the skin with a credit card or other hard, flat item.
- Avoid using tweezers to remove the stinger. If you grab the stinger with tweezers, it can actually squeeze more venom into the skin, causing greater discomfort and swelling.
2. Use bug repellent
To prevent bug bites from happening in the first place, Dr. Myers said to apply bug repellent before heading outdoors. For children, make sure you pay attention to what kind of repellant you’re using.
“The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends using products that have no greater than 30% DEET,” she said. “And certainly in younger children, I would use the lowest concentration that is still effective.”
The repellent should be applied to exposed areas of the skin but not under clothing. Spray your hands and then apply the repellent to your face, avoiding the eyes.
“You would also want to avoid products that combine insect repellent and sunscreen,” Dr. Myers said. “With insect repellent, usually one application is sufficient. But with sunscreen, you want to be reapplying that frequently.”
3. Wear the right sunscreen
Dr. Myers said to apply sunscreen starting 20 to 30 minutes prior to going out in the sun and reapply every two to three hours.
“If you are going to be in the water, I recommend applying every 60 to 80 minutes,” she said.
The sunscreen should have a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of 15 or higher—30 or higher for children who tend to burn more easily—and contain protection from both UVA and UVB rays.
If you’re planning to head to the pool with your sunscreened infant, Dr. Myers recommends they be over the age of six months. And if you absolutely need to use sunscreen on an infant, test a patch of skin first to make sure your baby doesn’t have a reaction.
“If a parent is going to take an infant out in the sun who’s less than six months of age, I do recommend making sure that they have a bonnet on, that their skin is mostly covered and that they’re in a shaded area,” she said.
Remember, even on cloudy days, the chance for sun damage is possible.
“You still have the same UV exposure,” she said. “It’s not all filtered out by the clouds.”
Sunscreen is the best defense against sunburns, but only if the product you are using has not expired. Dr. Myers said the best course of action is to replace your sunscreen every year.
4. Treat sunburns appropriately
Even with the best sunscreen, overexposure to the sun could result in a sunburn.
“The best thing is just cool compresses to alleviate hot, irritated skin,” Dr. Myers said. “You can use aloe vera gel to help soothe the skin after a sunburn. I also encourage parents to use Tylenol or Motrin if their child has feverish skin or has pain associated with sunburn.”
Products containing petroleum jelly are not recommended because they can trap heat in the skin.
For more information about bug bites and sunburns, contact your primary care physician. If you don’t have a doctor, find one near you.
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