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How to Avoid and Treat Summer Rashes and Stings

Sidestep these summer spoilers to keep your day in the sun fun.

Heat Rash

Heat can affect your child's skin from her face to her feet. "Heat rash, also known as miliaria or prickly heat, is very common when weather is hot and humid," says Dirk M. Elston, MD, a dermatologist at Geisinger Medical Center, in Danville, Pennsylvania.

When sweat glands become blocked, you may notice red bumps or pustules, often on the face and arms. But don't worry: Heat rash isn't serious and usually clears itself up. Until it does, skip creams or ointments that can plug up pores. Bathing your baby will help her feel more comfortable.

To prevent a recurrence, keep your child's skin cool during the day by dressing him in lightweight cotton clothing and taking frequent breaks from the heat. At night, dress him as warmly or coolly as you are dressing yourself.

Rashes from Swimming

A rash that crops up after your child has been splashing around in a pool, lake, or ocean can be one of several things:

  • If little red bumps appear around hair follicles under your child's clothing or swimsuit (often on the butt or thighs), hot tub folliculitis from a poorly chlorinated pool may be the culprit, says Dr. Mancini.
  • Itchy red bumps after a dip in the ocean can be a case of sea bather's eruption, which is caused by ocean organisms embedding themselves within the clothing and injecting toxins into skin.
  • Swimmer's itch, evidenced by itchy red bumps with tiny blisters, can occur after a dip in salt or freshwater. In this case, the rash typically shows up on areas that weren't covered by a swimsuit.

These rashes generally clear up on their own, but over-the-counter antihistamines and soothing or anti-itch products such as hydrocortisone, colloidal oatmeal products, and menthol/camphor creams may provide relief, says Dr. Mancini.

Flying and crawling pests like mosquitoes, bees, and ticks are more than just annoying; they can carry illnesses such as West Nile virus and Lyme disease. While Lyme disease is most common in the northeastern, mid-Atlantic, and upper Midwest states, as well as along the northern Pacific coast of California, cases of West Nile virus have been reported in nearly every state.

The best way to protect children, especially babies, is to keep them out of situations where they're more likely to encounter these buggers. For instance, keep infants indoors or in a screened area. Older kids shouldn't be outdoors during dawn and dusk when mosquitoes and other insects are out in force.

Using Deet

When you're outside, the best protection from most bites is insect repellent containing deet, says Dr. Mancini. But deet should never be used on children under 2 months old.

For older kids, products with 10 to 30 percent deet are now considered safe, says William B. Weil, MD, professor emeritus in the department of pediatrics and human development at Michigan State University.

"The higher the concentration, the longer it lasts," says Dr. Weil, who is also a member of the AAP environmental health committee. Still, some experts recommend only the lower deet concentration -- 10 percent -- for young children, who shouldn't be outside for long periods of time anyway.

Make sure you apply insect repellent only sparingly near a child's mouth or fingers so they don't ingest it, and keep it away from cuts. Remember to wash it off with soap and water once indoors. Also steer clear of dual sunscreen/insect repellents, both Dr. Mancini and Dr. Weil say. You should apply repellent only once a day, but reapply sunscreen several times. Using a combination of the two can mean overdosing on repellent.

Ticks

If you live in an area where ticks are a concern, dress your baby in long sleeves and long pants tucked into socks for additional protection. Check her regularly for ticks and consider using a permethrin spray -- a repellent sold in hiking or outdoor stores -- on clothing or tents, but never on skin. Look for the Permanone brand, or any product that lists permethrin as an ingredient.

Bees

Finally, banish bee concerns by avoiding bright clothing, fragrances, and places where bees gather, says Dr. Elston. Wearing shoes can also protect your child's feet if he steps on a bee.

Don't hit the beach, pool, or park without these skincare staples:

  • sunscreen
  • spray bottle of cool water
  • bandages
  • gauze
  • antibiotic ointment such as Bacitracin or Polysporin (for cuts or abrasions)
  • rubbing alcohol (in case your child steps on a splinter or nail)
  • tweezers (to remove ticks)
  • hydrocortisone cream and Benadryl (for bug bites and bee stings)

 

Kristen Finello, expecting her firstborn this month, lives in Scotch Plains, New Jersey.

Originally published in American Baby magazine, June 2005.

All content here, including advice from doctors and other health professionals, should be considered as opinion only. Always seek the direct advice of your own doctor in connection with any questions or issues you may have regarding your own health or the health of others.