Montana Public Radio

What Kids Need To Know About Bug Bites: Dr. Starbuck Explains

Jul 11, 2018

Hi! I’m Dr. Jamison Starbuck, a naturopathic family physician. I’m here with health tips for kids about bug bites.

It's insect time again here in Montana, and I mean the flying, buzzing, biting sorts of insects like mosquitoes, flies, bees and wasps. Here are a few things that are cool to know about bug bites.

Whether it's a mosquito, a fly or a bee, it's always the female bug that bites us. Female mosquitoes and flies bite because they need the protein in blood to make their eggs. Female bees are the ones with stingers. Male versions of these bugs are nice enough to live on just plant nectar and the juice in fruits.

What's different about these bugs is why they bite and where they hang out.

Mosquitoes like just about any quiet water to lay their eggs. They choose ponds, puddles, even water sitting in an old bucket or dog bowl or a tire hanging around behind your garage. If it's a really rainy summer or if somebody over-waters their grass mosquitoes can lay their eggs right in the lawn!

Flies choose damp, rotting places to lay their eggs. They like the inside of a decaying tree stump or garbage or even manure. Yuck!

A wasp and a bee visit a lupine flower.
Credit Josh Burnham

Bees and wasps are different, they don't live in damp places. They lay eggs in nests or their hives and they only like water for drinking. They sting when we threaten them, when we get in their way, when we step on them or when we trap them inside our clothing.

So how do kids prevent bug bites? And when a kid gets a bite, what can they do? Here are my tips:

For prevention, make smart choices. Avoid damp places where mosquitoes hang out. Keep your eyes on the lookout for bee activity. And make sure your yard, deck and picnic table are tidy so there's no old food or animal poop that will attract flies.

Wear light clothing when you are outside where the insects might be most. Biting bugs really don't like white, so they'll stay away from you a little more if you wear white than if you wear dark colors. Wear long sleeve and long pants and a hat if you're going into insect territory, they can't bite through clothes.

Talk to your parents about insect repellants, I like the natural kind, the kind made from essential oils. Lavender, cinnamon, eucalyptus and thyme seem to work the best for insects. Your parents can buy them in natural grocery stores and even learn how to make them at home.

If you do get bitten or stung, the first thing to do is wash the bite with soap and water. Insects can carry bacteria and dirt that can make the bites swell and hurt more. They could even cause an infection.

After washing, put one of these remedies right on top of the bite. You can try St. John's Wart oil, arnica cream, ice, vinegar, chamomile lotion and a paste made of banking soda and water. You can put these medicines on your bite frequently, even every 15 minutes if you want. Not all of them work for everyone, so try several and see which one is best for you.

A caution: some kids are very allergic to insect bites, especially bees. If you get a big red bump around the bite or if you feel weird, dizzy, get a headache, or don't breathe correctly, then tell an adult right away. You might need to see a doctor for help with your reaction.

I hope you don't get bites and stings this summer but if you do, I hope my tips are helpful. I'm Dr. Jamison Starbuck, and I'm wishing you well.