Pharmamum’s Ultimate Guide: Insect Repellent
When summer comes around, and your children enjoy spending hours playing outside late into the evening, be sure to protect their skin from annoying mosquitos. Depending on where you live, mosquitoes not only leave a red itchy bump on the skin but in rare cases they can carry diseases that can be potentially fatal. Unfortunately in Australia, we are seeing viruses spread by mosquitos as an increasing problem. Most mosquitoes are just a nuisance leaving their mark, causing us to itch and scratch; but unfortunately, we cannot differentiate a mosquito with an infected disease, from one without. Hence, when planning a holiday we need to educate ourselves about the environment we are travelling to and what protective measures we can take. Whether you are travelling over the summer months or staying locally, be sure to read the following information to keep you and your family protected.
When it comes to protecting our children, it is important that we use the most effective, most reliable repellents. Insect repellents which contain the ingredient DEET or Picaridin have been proven to be the most effective. The risk of serious side effects with the use of DEET is slight; nevertheless, the lowest effective concentration should be used.
These are methods that will help you to know how to use the insect repellent on your babies/children in the safest and most effective way:
- Insect repellants containing 10% DEET or less, are enough to prevent mosquito bites in babies/young children. Brands include: Rid Kids and Aeroguard for kids (contains 7% DEET)
- In high risk areas where malaria, Ross river virus, Barmah forest virus and Dengue fever occur, insect repellants containing 15-30% DEET should be used. Brands include: Rid tropical strength, Aeroguard family protection low irritant ( contain 19% DEET)
- Always do a patch test of the insect repellent on your baby/child’s skin. Insect repellents containing DEET can cause skin irritations and insect repellent containing Picaridin has shown to be gentler on the skin. Brand of Picaridin: Aerogard Odourless low irritant, Protect (containing 19% Picaridin)
- Only use insect repellent on exposed skin. Do not apply insect repellent to the skin which is covered by clothing.
- Use roll-on insect repellants or creams rather than sprays or aerosols, to ensure your baby/child does not inhale the repellant. If the repellant only comes in a spray, spray it into your hands first and then apply it on your child’s skin
- Repellents should not be used on infants under 2 months of age
- In young children insect repellants are safest if sprayed on clothing rather than on the skin. If you use a spray, ensure you spray outside to avoid inhaling the repellant.
- Avoid applying insect repellent to your baby/toddler’s hands to avoid your child putting their fingers in their mouths and sucking on the repellant. Also avoid applying insect repellent too close to their eyes and mouth.
- Do not use insect repellents containing more than 30% DEET on children of any age and never allow a child under the age of 10 to apply to themselves a repellent containing DEET.
- Always apply sunscreen before applying an insect repellent
- Use unscented cosmetics and toiletries, since mosquitoes are attracted to scents
- Wash your child’s skin with soap and water when they return inside
There are natural insect repellents that contain citronella oil and eucalyptus oil which do ward off mosquitos, and come in forms of sprays or wristbands etc. However, they are not as effective as repellents that contain DEET or picaridin. If going into a high-risk areas, you cannot rely on these natural repellents to protect you and your children.
Insect repellents containing DEET and Picaridin also protect against other insects eg. Sandflies, biting Midges, Ticks and Leeches and the disease they cause eg. Lyme disease
(Be aware that DEET does not affect fabrics eg. cotton, wool or nylon however ensure it is not sprayed on plastics, leather and painted or varnished materials, as it will damage those materials.)
Other ways to repel mosquitos:
- When taking your baby outdoors ensure they are wearing long, loose, light coloured clothing with close fitting around the wrists and ankles to avoid insects finding their way up a sleeve/trouser.
- spray the pram/stroller with insect repellent
- Mosquito nets can be purchased at outdoor camping stores (containing Permethrin). They can cover a pram/ bassinet/portacot. Ensure the netting is far enough away from your baby’s face
- It is known that mosquitoes are more active at dawn and dusk, however it is important if travelling to an area where mosquito borne viruses are prevalent that some bite during the day too, eg. Dengue mosquitos (in far north Queensland) peak biting time is during the day, hence it is important to know how long your insect repellent lasts and reapply when necessary.
Be mindful with insect repellent wristbands, as they last for 48 hours before needing to be replaced. Once they have been opened and if you place a wristband on a young child you have to be vigilant that the child does not remove it and place it in their mouth and/or chew on the band.
What to do if your baby/child get’s bitten by a mosquito?
Often with a mosquito bite, the red itchy bump on the skin is intensely itchy immediately, however the itch will subside and the red bump will disappear. Some babies/children are sensitive to the venom that the mosquito injects and will come up in a very big swollen red lump on the skin (up to 5cm in diameter). However if your child shows an immediate reaction eg. swelling of the lips or tongue, or difficulty breathing, that requires immediate/urgent attention- call an ambulance.
Another concern with a mosquito bite is that the child may cause the skin to open by scratching intensely and this may lead to an infection:
If this occurs:
- Apply an ice pack to the area, don’t place ice directly onto the skin but wrap the ice pack in a tea towel first. Keeping it cold will dull the itch. Becoming warm/hot will trigger the itch causing your child to scratch again (ie. after a bath), so you may need to keep the ice pack handy.
- Applying Calamine lotion may relieve the itch
- However if Calamine lotion is not helping, applying a small amount of hydrocortisone cream 0.1% (Sigmacort or Derm-Aid cream) to the affected area will reduce the inflammation and stop the ‘itch/scratch’ cycle. When my children get bitten by mosquitos, I apply the hydrocortisone cream as soon as they complain or I see them scratching and it really dulls the itch. You can apply the hydrocortisone up to 3 times a day if necessary.
- An antihistamine can be given to your baby/child eg Telfast children’s elixir can be given from 6 months (raspberry flavour), Zyrtec drops and Claratyne liquid can be given from 1 year of age.
If the skin breaks due to your baby/child scratching, watch out for the following signs and symptoms of infection:
- Localised swelling
- Potential loss of mobility in the joint
I always advise patients to mark using a pen on the skin where the redness ends and monitor the spread of redness. If, over a few hours the redness rises above the mark, take the child to the doctor as an infection is present. You want to ensure the infection is treated as soon as possible because otherwise the infection can progress quickly and your child could become unwell rapidly.
Depending on where you are travelling to, you may require more protection than insect repellents, do your research before travelling. Eg. If you are travelling to an area where Malaria (a mosquito-borne disease) is at risk, your doctor will prescribe anti-malaria tablets for your family. There are travel clinics all around Australia that will inform you as to whether extra vaccinations and medications may be needed for your family travels.
Please feel free to leave comments on this blog and if there are any questions I am more than happy to answer them. Also if you tried a remedy that worked well for your children that was or wasn’t mentioned above, let me know. I hope this information does help.
Disclaimer – The material on this blog is only to be used for informational purposes only. As each individual situation is unique, you should use proper discretion, in consultation with a health care practitioner, before applying the methods, medicines, techniques or otherwise described herein. The author and publisher expressly disclaim responsibility for any adverse effects that may result from the use or application of the information contained herein.