Caring for Kids…at Billings Clinic

5 ways to take the bite out of summer

The summer always brings the buzzing, biting, stinging creatures that wreak havoc on evening outings and picnics.  In Montana, the mosquito is not the state “bird” as it is in Minnesota, but they can still put a damper on any boating or camping trip.  The perfectly placed mosquito bite can create quite a localized reaction in the young and tender skin of children.  I’ll never forget the time my daughter got a bug bite right between the eyes making her forehead swell up so much she looked like an alien, and her eyelids puffed up like marshmallows!  She was not impressed with being nicknamed “The Avatar” that entire camping trip.  Reactions to mosquito bites can cause concern for many parents, and I see several kiddos in the office for this summertime ailment.  Why do kids react so much?  And when do you worry?

Kids always react more to the bite of a mosquito than adults because their immune system is just not as used to it.  Adults have had a lifetime of mosquito saliva injected into their skin and are much more used to this foreign substance in their body, so not as many immune chemicals are released at the site of the bite.  However, the immune reaction of a child can be huge! It can get quite swollen, warm, and red…making many parents worried their child may have a deeper bacterial infection.   Often times, there is no infection, just a pronounced localized reaction.  A systemic reaction (anaphylaxis) requiring an Epi-Pen is unusual for mosquito bites, so children do not need to carry one around even if they’ve had a local reaction that was fairly moderate.

Cool compresses and a cool bath can help alleviate the discomfort of mosquito bites.  Topical creams on the bite, like calamine lotion and hydro-cortisone cream, can also be soothing.  If the bites are more extensive, oral medications like Benadryl, Claratin, or Zyrtec can be helpful too.  If your child has a fever or is acting sick after a mosquito bite, a trip to the doctor’s office is probably warranted. Mosquitoes are reservoirs for illnesses such as West Nile virus, encephalitis viruses, yellow fever, dengue and malaria.  In the United States, we are lucky not to have to worry about the more sinister diseases common in the tropics, but West Nile can be a player in some areas. You can access the CDC’s web page on West Nile activity to see if there have been any cases reported near you. West Nile is usually pretty benign and up to 70% of cases have no symptoms. Less than 1% of cases can cause an infection in the brain making someone very sick requiring hospitalization.

Prevention is always best, so protect you and your kids from mosquito bites with these tips:

  • Avoid spending a lot of time near standing water
  • Stay inside during dusk/evening hours
  • Wear long clothing to keep your skin well-covered
  • Don’t wear bright clothing
  • When heading outside, apply bug spray containing DEET (between 10-30% are safe to use in children 6 months or older).

DEET containing sprays offer protection for 2-5 hours (depending on the concentration).  A simple application to the exposed skin and clothing while being outdoors, followed by washing it off when back inside, is safe.  Apply sprays in a well-ventilated area and avoid the face, mouth and eyes.

Hope your summer nights are filled with family fun despite the buzzing mosquitoes!

Michelle Pierson, MD

Hi! My name is Michelle Pierson and I am a wife, mom, and general pediatrician at the Billings Clinic. I am excited about this blog and the opportunity to reach out to parents in my hometown of Billings. Growing up here and raising my own kiddos in this community gives me some perspective on how we can take care of our children's health with the resources we have in the region. I get great joy from my family and job, and a good piece of chocolate cake! A good book and "cuddle time" with my kids on the couch rank up there pretty high too.

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