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July 7, 2013

Insect repellents: Are they safe for kids?

Summer is a wonderful time to be outdoors, but protecting your family from the dangers of certain insects accompanies that enjoyment. Mosquito and tick bites can be more than "just a bug bite."

The diseases that these little bugs can transmit — such as encephalitis, which involves the brain, and Lyme disease — can be very serious. Just the mention of these diseases can cause some anxiety among parents and caregivers. The other area of parental concern is the protection that we can offer to our children. What is safe? What is worse: the potential toxicity of the chemical or the potential risk of diseases from these bugs? These are some of the common summertime questions that I hear in my practice.

We will focus here on insect repellents. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) is quite clear about the use of insect repellents. Still, even after becoming familiar with these AAP's guidelines, I recommend that parents continue to read about protection against summer bugs and bring their questions and concerns to their pediatrician.

  1. Reduce mosquito-laden areas by getting rid of stagnant water. Try to avoid areas of high mosquito or tick activity. Use clothing and netting (strollers) as much as possible.

  2. DEET is the most common active ingredient used in insect repellents. It is safe if used in the appropriate manner. The AAP supports the use of DEET (up to 30%) for children above the age of 2 months. But use only what you need. For example, do not use 30% if your particular event only requires the protection time that you can get from 10% of DEET. Yes, it has been associated in rare cases with toxicity to humans but these events have been related to excessive application and ingestion. Please follow all directions on the label.

  3. Do not use repellent under clothes, over cuts, wounds or irritated skin.

  4. Do not spray on the face directly. You can apply it with your hands.

  5. Wash skin with soap after you return indoors.

  6. If your child gets a rash or other type of reaction, wash off the repellent with soap and water and call Poison Control and your doctor's office.

  7. Avoid oil of lemon eucalyptus on children younger than 3 years of age.

  8. Avoid using products which combine insect repellents and sunscreen agents together. Sunscreen should be reapplied frequently but insect repellents should not.

Every season brings preventive guidelines for you and your family. Hopefully, these tips will help you throughout your summer journeys!