Mosquito Bites in Kids | What to Do and How to Prevent Bug Bites

by Kristen Borchetta, DO | December 4, 2020
Bug Bite Mosquito

Mosquitoes are the worst! Mosquitoes can send you running inside to miss out on a lot of fun outdoors. Although most mosquito bites cause nothing more than an annoying bump, they can sometimes lead to infections and other problems. Mosquitoes can carry diseases in some geographic locations, such as Dengue fever, Zika virus, West Nile virus, and Malaria. These are not common in the United States, but it is important to be familiar with what is common in your region. In this post, we will explore not only what to do to help mosquito bites but also the best and safest ways to prevent them for our kids.  

What are the bumps we get from bug bites?

The bumps you get are an allergic reaction to mosquito saliva. Mosquitos and other similar insects land on our bodies and use a stinger to suck blood through the skin. During this process, some of the insect’s saliva mixes in, and the bite/bump that forms there is the body’s reaction to that saliva. Thankfully, anaphylaxis (a life threatening allergic reaction) is very rare from insect bites, since most common insects do not have venom, and for most children insect bites are just mildly itchy. For some children, the bite triggers a localized inflammatory reaction that causes redness and swelling around the bump.

Note that in some cases an insect bite can become infected, especially if your child is scratching a lot. This would look like impetigo – usually crusting or scabbing over the bite that is yellow/orange- or cellulitis -red, hot, tender skin spreading around the bite. More serious symptoms of infection like streaking of redness away from the bite or fever can also occur. If you think your child has a severe allergic reaction or signs of infection, it is important that you speak with a doctor as soon as possible so that we can recommend a treatment course.

What helps with the itchiness from bug bites?

I usually recommend topical Benadryl gel or cream as the first line treatment. Why? Because it controls the itching, and since it goes on the skin there are limited to no side effects! You can also cover bites with a band-aid to prevent scratching if needed. Usually, insect bites will resolve on their own within 3-4 days. If your child has a worse reaction, talk to your pediatrician and we may add topical steroid cream to calm the inflammation down. In severe cases, oral antihistamines may be used. 

Insect Repellents

If you are in an area with a high mosquito population, PREVENTION is the most important way to help our kids! Dressing in long sleeves and pants creates a physical barrier that makes it hard for insects to gain access to the skin. Insect repellents can also be a life-saver. They can be very effective but need to be used safely in children. There are several classes of repellents on the market, including DEET, Picardin, and essential oil-based repellents.

DEET-based repellents are the most effective. The amount of DEET varies in products, so it’s important to read the label and look for how much DEET is in your bug spray. The amount you want will depend on how long you’ll be applying it for; a product containing 10% DEET will protect for 2 hours whereas 30% DEET will provide protection for up to 5 hours.The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that no more than 30% DEET should be used on children.

What about Picardin and essential oils? Picardin-based repellents can be effective, and usually last 3-6 hours. Essential oil-based repellents are generally considered safe, but there have not been long-term use studies. 

What should I avoid? Certain things are definitely NOT recommended for children- wristbands soaked with products, oral vitamins, and ultrasonic devices that are worn. And most importantly, you should never use any kind of insect repellent with a child younger than 2 months old, period.