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Family Health

The Buzz About Insect Bites

Be sure that what’s bugging you doesn’t turn into an infection.

When insects like mosquitoes, gnats, flies, fleas and spiders bite us, they inject our skin with an irritant. That causes our immune system to react by releasing histamine to fight the foreign substance, which, in turn, leads to redness, swelling, itching and pain at the site of the bite.

Most bites are mild; the itching and swelling goes away after a few days. The problem with bites most often arises from scratching the itch, leading to broken skin and a bacterial infection.

Stop scratching!
Some of us just can’t resist scratching – especially young children and toddlers who can’t be watched 24/7. No matter how old you are, prevent further complications with these strategies:
  • Apply calamine lotion or 1% hydrocortisone cream to the bite. (Do not use hydrocortisone on children younger than 2 years old.)
  • Make a paste of baking soda and spread it on the bite. That will reduce the itchiness. Reapply as soon as the itch even hints at returning.
  • For young children, soak a cotton ball in a solution of baking soda and water, then place it on the bite for 20 minutes.
  • Apply a cold, moist compress to the bite or ice it for up to 20 minutes.
  • Try a dose of antihistamine (check with your pediatrician before giving antihistamines to children), or take acetaminophen or ibuprofen for pain relief.
  • If the swelling and pain persist after six hours, apply warm, moist compresses.

Is it infected?
If the urge to scratch was overwhelming and the skin is broken, the area will be susceptible to bacterial infection.  Telltale signs include:
  • Pus inside and around the bitten area
  • Greater pain around the bite
  • Swollen glands
  • Fever
Talk to your doctor to see if an oral antibiotic should be prescribed if you believe the bite is infected.

First defense: Avoidance

When you’re outside this summer, cover your skin and clothing with insect repellent, especially if you’re out in dawn and dusk hours, or in wooded and water-filled areas. Teens, if you’re working at a camp this year, take extra precautions to keep yourself free from bites by keeping arms, legs and feet covered as often as possible. Don’t let insects bug you and ruin your summer months!

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