When the days warm up, pediatric offices see a lot of summer skin problems. Kids aren’t often ill during the summer, but they do get sunburns, bites, jellyfish stings, and rashes.
No one thinks about sunscreen on that first glorious sunshiny day, so sunburns are usually our first evidence that summer is here. Remember to use sunscreen, of course, and don’t forget to reapply it every hour.
If your child does burn, give ibuprofen immediately – it helps with the inflammation and can actually reduce the depth of injury. Use aloe generously: it lessens the pain, moisturizes the skin, and helps heal the damage. If the burn is bad, call your doctor. Prescription steroids and burn creams will help.
Bug bites are also very popular in the summer, from mosquitos, fire ants, yellow flies, and fleas. Insects inject toxins into children’s skin when they bite; how much a particular child reacts depends on how sensitive he or she is.
Cover up little arms and legs when you can, especially if you are going to be outdoors around twilight. There are excellent clothing treatments available that will keep bugs away and last through several washings, protecting your child indirectly.
If your child is older than 2 months, use insect repellant with DEET on exposed skin, even though it’s nasty. It works and it’s a whole lot better than getting insect borne encephalitis. 10% DEET lasts about 2 hours; 30% lasts about 5 hours. Don’t use anything stronger than 30% on a child. Don’t reapply in the same day, and do wash it off when you go back inside.
Creams with pramoxine or calamine will help with itchiness. Cortisone creams help itch and also swelling and redness, but can only be used a couple of times a day. If there are lots of bites, an antihistamine by mouth will also help with swelling and itch.
Never use antihistamine creams (benadryl is the most common), because children can react to the topical antihistamine and actually get worse instead of better.
Bee and wasp stings are treated much the same way, after making sure to remove the stinger and apply a cool compress (and yes, Grandma’s idea about the wet mud does help).
Poison ivy, oak, and sumac
If your child is a forest dweller, he or she will at some point get poison ivy, oak or sumac. These plants produce a poison called urushiol in their sap and leaves, causing redness, itch and blistering.
The severity of this reaction also varies depending on your munchkin’s sensitivity. My brother’s eyes would swell shut if someone burnt it a block away; I could pull it up and throw it away with no reaction.
Wash both the child and his or her clothes as soon as possible. No lounging on the furniture! The toxin can stay on surfaces for months. Once the toxin is either absorbed into the skin or washed off, the rash is no longer contagious. Blister fluid does not contain urushiol.
The rash will develop first where the most toxin was deposited, in streaks and patches. It can spread for a week or so to the areas where less toxin landed, then take another two weeks to clear.
If the rash is mild, you can treat it at home with cool compresses, baking soda or oatmeal baths, the same creams you used for those pesky bug bites, and that antihistamine by mouth. See? Grandma was right again.
If the rash is not mild, or your child has it on their face, around their eyes, or on their genitals (and how did that plant get there?) call your doc. We can put them on steroids, which help enormously.
If you harbor a small mermaid or man in your home, she or he may get stung by a jellyfish. There are some extremely dangerous jellyfish, so if your child has any trouble breathing, is weak or nauseated, has pain away from the sting, or has sweating, cramping, or diarrhea, call your doctor immediately.
If it is a simple sting, first remove the barbs by scraping it with a towel or a credit card. Don’t rub. Put suntan oil or salt water and hot sand on the sting; heat will deactivate the poison.
Do NOT wash the sting with fresh water – it will make the nematocysts (poison sacks) explode and release more poison into the skin. Your child will scream and not love you anymore. Put only fluids with lots of particles in them on the sting: sting-away, vinegar or steak sauce, for example. Ibuprofen will also help the pain and inflammation.
Last, we see allergic reactions to everything from sunscreen to henna tattoos to jewelry to pool chemicals from fun in the sun. Kids with sensitive skin or eczema will rash out in the summer from the heat, humidity and sweat.
By now you can probably sense a common theme (or you could just ask Grandma): give your itchy red bumpy child a cool bath with mild soap. Moisturize and apply topical steroids or give antihistamines by mouth.
If any of this doesn’t work, call me! It gets lonely in a pediatric office during the summer when all the kids are healthy.