by Cody Wilson, DO, pediatrician, Primary Care Pediatrics
A frequent question that comes up over the summer is how to handle and prevent sunburns and bug bites. Here are a few tips for avoiding and treating these common issues, while allowing your kids to stay active and enjoy the outdoors.
How to prevent sunburn in infants and children:
It’s important to keep infants less than six months old out of direct sunlight as much as possible. Infants have skin that is thinner than adults, making them a higher risk for bad burns and the complications that go along with them. Try and dress them in light-weight pants, long-sleeved shirts and hats. This might seem crazy during the summer, but it’s definitely a good idea. UV rays are strongest between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., so try limiting your exposure during those times. Infants under six months old can use sunscreen on small areas of the body, such as the face or hands and feet.
For babies older than six months, use a generous amount of sunscreen on all areas of the body. Use a sunscreen with a SPF of at least 15 up to 50. Typically, around 30 works well. There is little evidence that products with a SPF greater than 50 work any better. Also, try and put sunscreen on about 15-30 minutes before going outside so it can absorb into the skin. Even though many sunscreens say they are waterproof, you still need to reapply them about every two hours while in the water. Make sure you use sunscreen on cloudy days too because UV rays are still present, even through clouds . You actually don’t have to be burned for your skin to be harmed by the sun. The effects can start at a very young age, and over time, lead to problems like wrinkling, freckling and possibly cancer later in life.
How do I treat a sunburn?
Despite your best efforts, children are likely to get a sunburn at some point. When it happens, give them plenty of cool fluids. Use cool water directly on the skin to soothe the skin and provide relief. You can use moisturizing creams or aloe gel to provide comfort. If your child has a bad burn, you can also give acetaminophen to infants less than six months old, or ibuprofen or acetaminophen if they are older. Make sure you keep them out of the sun until the sunburn is fully healed. Call your doctor with any severe sunburn, especially if your child is under a year. If your child is older, call your doctor if they develop severe blistering, severe pain, fever, chills or headache. These can signal more serious problems that need to be taken care of as soon as possible.
Can I use bug repellant on my baby?
Mosquitoes, biting flies and ticks are some of the most common bites during the summer months. Most of these bites will result in little or no harm to your child, but in rare cases, they can lead to more serious problems. One way to protect your child from insect bites is by using insect repellent. There are a lot of options, but the standard is a chemical called DEET. DEET works for mosquitoes, biting flies, ticks, chiggers and fleas. It can be safely used on infants and children older than two months. You need to read the labels carefully because there are different amounts of DEET in different products. Higher amounts of DEET work longer, but you should not use more than 30 percent DEET on children. Only apply small amounts to the skin or the outside of clothing. You only need to use small amounts. Putting large amounts actually won’t work any better. When you apply repellent, never spray it directly onto your child’s face. Instead, spray some on your hands and then rub it onto their face, while avoiding the eyes and mouth. Try and avoid products with combined bug spray and sunscreen. They don’t protect you from the sun as well, and if you keep reapplying for more sun protection, your child can get too much exposure to DEET. There is also special clothing made with another product called “permethrin” that can be helpful. A combination of a repellent with DEET and clothing with permethrin is probably your best bet overall.
Try to stay away from wristbands or sound wave devices because they have no proven benefit. Also, be aware that scented soaps , perfumes and hair sprays may attract insects.
How do I treat bug bites?
A normal reaction to an insect bite is typically mild swelling and redness around the area of the bite. This typically happens within a few minutes. The area can also be very itchy depending on what type of insect it is. Basic care for bug bites includes washing the area with soap and water and using an ice or cold pack on the area for comfort and to decrease swelling. Creams, gels or lotions like calamine can help as well. If itching is a problem, use over-the-counter allergy medications (antihistamines). If your child develops severe swelling, fever or difficulty breathing, they need to be seen by their doctor as soon as possible.