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Daily Dose

Summer Series: How to Treat Common Insect Bites

From May/June until fall I consistently see children who are brought to my office for me to look at their insect bites.As we continue our summer series, it’s time to talk about pesky insect bites.  From May/June until Fall, I consistently see children who are brought to my office for me to look at their insect bites.  Just last week a mother brought in a 7 year old that she thought had chickenpox, but in reality it was numerous bug bites, which were located on the child’s arms and legs (exposed skin) rather than on the trunk which is seen with early chickenpox.  

In many cases, the offending biting insect is not accurately identified, as it could be the ubiquitous mosquito, or biting flies, gnats or fleas. Systemic reactions from insect bites are much less common that systemic reactions to insect stings. The immediate reaction to the insect bite usually occurs in 10–15 minutes with local swelling and itching, and may disappear in an hour or less.  The delayed reaction may appear in 12–24 hours with the development of an itchy red papule (bump) which may persist for days to even weeks. This is the reason that some people do not remember being bitten while they were outside, but the following day may present with the bites all over their arms and legs or chest, depending on what part of the body was exposed. Large local reactions to mosquito bites are common in children. For some reason it seems to me that “baby fat”  reacts more to the bite of the mosquito. (No science here).  The toddler set will often have itchy, red, are warm swellings appearing within minutes of the bites and they may even go on to develop bruising, and spontaneous blistering in 2–6 hours after being bitten. These bites then may persist for days or weeks, so in theory their little legs will be affected for most of the summer.  Severe local reactions are called “sweeter syndrome” and occur within hours of being bitten and may involve swelling of an entire body part such as the hand, face or extremity.  These are often misdiagnosed as cellulitis, but with a good history, the rapidity with which the area developed redness, swelling, warmth to touch and tenderness,  would be uncommon for a bacterial infection. Systemic reactions to mosquito bites including generalized hives, swelling of the lips and mouth, nausea, vomiting and wheezing have been reported due to a true allergy to the mosquito salivary proteins but are extremely rare. The treatment of local reactions to bites involves the use of topical anti-itching preparations like Calamine lotion,  Sarna lotion, Dommeboro soaks etc.  This may be supplemented by topical steroid creams (either over the counter or prescription) which may be used several times a day for a week or so to minimize scarring. An oral antihistamine (Benadryl)  may also reduce some of the swelling and itching.  Do not use topical antihistamines.  It is also important to try and prevent secondary infection (by scratching and picking) by using antibacterial soaps, trimming fingernails and applying an antibiotic cream like Polysporin to open bites. The best treatment is actually prevention. Using a DEET preparation before going outside (lowest concentration that is effective) may be used in children over the age of 6 months.  Mosquito netting may be used for infants. Try to avoid going outside at dawn and dusk and make sure that you check pots etc for standing water that may be breeding areas for mosquitoes. Wearing long sleeves and long pants will also help (can’t imagine when it is 105 degrees !) That's your daily dose for today.  We'll chat again tomorrow! Send your question to Dr. Sue right now!

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Bug Bite or Staph Infection?

I received another e-mail with an attached picture (you can take a look too) asking me my thoughts on what to do about this child’s bite. My first thoughts are, “is this really a bite, or is it an early staph infection?”I received another e-mail  asking me my thoughts on what to do about this child’s bite. My first thoughts are, “is this really a bite, or is it an early staph infection?”

This is often a common problem even in the office setting. A parent brings in a child and there is no history of a known bite, and at this time of year there really are not that many bugs creeping around biting our arms and legs. At the same time, the lesion looks fairly benign, it is not warm to the touch, or tender, and the patient or parents aren’t sure how long it has been there. When faced with this dilemma, I often take a “sharpie” marker and draw a circle around the area and instruct the parent to keep the area clean with an antibacterial soap (don’t worry, “sharpie” does not wash off that fast). I also have them give the child a dose of an antihistamine, like Benadryl (diphenhydramine), which might help if it is indeed a bite. Then we wait and watch. If it is a bite, in most cases it will look a little better by the following day, or at a minimum unchanged. In the case of a staph skin infection the area typically appears larger than the original “sharpie” mark. It is also usually hot, red and tender by now. It may have “declared” itself to be a bacterial infection as it has a purulent center that can be drained. When I say drained, I mean at the doctor’s office so it can be done in a sterile manner and also the purulent material may be sent for culture and sensitivity. DO NOT poke, squeeze, take a needle or anything to drain the lesion at home. Remember NO PICKING!! By doing this at home you may take a completely benign lesion that will go away on its own in several days, and actually break the skin and cause a secondary infection. This is hard for many to resist, but resist! If the said “bite” turns out to be an actual skin infection, then by culturing the drainage, the organism which is often staph, may be identified as a “staph” that is susceptible to many antibiotics, or it may indeed be the unfortunately more and more common MRSA. MRSA or methicillin resistant staph is causing frequent skin infections within the community rather what we previously thought of as a hospital infection. The most important thing is to pay attention to the “bite” and if is worsens make sure you go see the doctor. We should get up follow up in the next several days!! That’s your daily dose, we’ll chat again tomorrow.

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It’s The Season For Bug Bites & Stings

1:30 to read

Children love to be outside in the spring and summer when the daylight is longer and the backyard, playground, or campsite can become a magical play space. Insect bites are bound to happen. Most are just an annoyance, but make sure you know which ones to be concerned about and which ones may just require a hug and a kiss.It’s that time of year when insect bites and stings start showing up on your kids. Knowing how to prevent and treat common insect bites and stings, and knowing when to not overreact, can help keep your kids safe and healthy.

Babies and children may be more affected by bites or stings than adults. Let’s start with some common spring and summer insects. Spider bites Most spider bites do not actually penetrate the skin, and the majority of spiders found in the U.S are mostly harmless with the important exception of the black widow spider and the brown recluse spider, which are both dangerous to humans. Spider bites are fortunately uncommon. In many cases, presumed spider bites are actually due to another skin condition or an insect sting. The black widow spider is said to feel like a pin-prick, and some victims do not even realize they have been bitten. Sometimes you may notice double fang marks on the skin. The most common symptoms where the bite occurs are immediate pain, burning, swelling, and redness. Other symptoms may include chills, fever, nausea and vomiting, and severe abdominal pain. While black widow spider bites are hardly ever fatal, rare deaths have occurred from brown recluse spider bites and are more common in children than in adults. At first the bite of a brown recluse spider leads to a mild stinging, followed by local redness and severe pain that usually develops within eight hours but may occur later. Some reports of brown recluse bites describe a blue or purple area around the bite, surrounded by a whitish ring and large red outer ring in a "bull's eye" pattern. A fluid-filled blister forms at the site and then sloughs off to reveal a deep ulcer that may turn black. If bitten by a brown recluse or black widow spider - Cleanse the wound. Use soap and water to clean the wound and skin around the spider bite. - Slow the venom's spread. If the spider bite is on an arm or a leg, tie a snug bandage above the bite and elevate the limb to help slow or halt the venom's spread. Ensure that the bandage is not so tight that it cuts off circulation in your arm or leg. - Use a cold cloth at the spider bite location. Apply a cloth dampened with cold water or filled with ice. Seek immediate medical attention. Treatment for the bite of a black widow may require an anti-venom medication. Doctors may treat a brown recluse spider bite with various medications.

Bee Stings In most cases, bee stings are just annoying and home treatment is all that's necessary to ease the pain. But if you're allergic to bee stings or you get stung numerous times, you may have a more serious reaction that requires emergency treatment. Most of the time the symptoms from a bee sting will be minor. Your child may experience a burning pain, a red welt, and slight swelling. Some children may have a stronger reaction with extreme redness and swelling that gets bigger over a couple of days. Children, adolescents, and adults who are allergic to bee stings may have a severe reaction called anaphylaxis. About 3% of people who are stung by bees quickly develop these anaphylaxis symptoms. - Skin reactions in parts of the body other than the sting area, including hives and itching and flushed or pale skin (almost always present with anaphylaxis) -  Difficulty breathing -  Swelling of the throat and tongue -  A weak and rapid pulse -  Nausea, vomiting or diarrhea -  Dizziness or fainting -  Loss of consciousness -  Convulsions -  Fever -  Shock may occur if the circulatory cannot get enough blood to vital organs. For most Bee stings you can apply an ice pack or cool compress, a meat tenderizer solution which can be made by mixing one part meat tenderizer and 4 parts water. Soak a cotton ball in the solution and apply to the bite for 15020 minutes. A baking soda paste works well or a topical anti-itch cream such as Calamine lotion. Talk to your pediatrician about ways to prevent bee stings and possible immunotherapy if your child is allergic. Multiple stings can be a medical emergency in children, older adults, and people who have heart or breathing problems. If your child is allergic to bee stings always have an EpiPen available and use it right away as your pediatrician has directed. Wasps, hornets, and yellow jacket stings are similar to bee stings.

Fire Ants A bite that will get your child’s attention quickly belongs to the fire ant. Fire ants are so named because their venom induces a painful, fiery sensation. When disturbed, fire ants are very aggressive. To help children avoid fire ants, parents should regularly check their yards and their children's play areas for the presence of the ants and their mounds. Then they should either eliminate the ants or make sure children avoid them. If a child is stung, apply ice to the bite site for 10 to 15 minutes. Elevate the extremity where the child was bit. Clean and clip the child's fingernails to prevent any secondary infection that can result from scratching the bite. Check with the child's pediatrician for the correct dose of an oral antihistamine to reduce itching and inflammation A small percentage of children stung -- probably less than 0 .5 percent -- experience a severe (anaphylactic) reaction. These occur within minutes of a sting and vary in severity. A child who is stung and within minutes begins to experience hives, weakness, dizziness, wheezing, difficulty swallowing, shortness of breath or confusion should be taken immediately to the nearest emergency room. Watch the area for signs of infection over the next couple of days.

Ticks Ticks are common in grasses and wooded areas. If you have pets make sure they are tick free. Ticks are usually harmless but they can carry Lyme disease. To remove a tick begin by taking a cotton swab or cotton ball. Dip the swab or cotton ball in a small glass container that you will be throwing out after use. Place a small amount of rubbing alcohol in the bottom of your container. Use at least 2 tablespoons of alcohol. Dab on the site of the tick on the child or pet. Do not let it run, that is why you are dabbing it rather than pouring it on the site. If there is excess, dab it with another cotton swab or cotton ball. Let this cotton ball or swab sit on the tick for 3 minutes. This suffocates the tick and he will back out for retrieval with tweezers. If that method is unsuccessful, use the alcohol swab again and let the area dry. Then take a clean, unused cotton swab and glob a dollop of Vaseline petroleum jelly on the site where you see the tick. Let this stay on top of the tick for 3 minutes. You will then remove the tick and the Vaseline petroleum jelly.

Mosquitoes Probably the most common insect bite in the spring and summer come form mosquitoes. has these tips for treating and preventing mosquito bites. The usual reaction is a local skin inflammation that is red, raised and very itchy. If your child scratches the bite, it may become infected as well. Here's what you can do for your children to help ease the itch and pain caused by mosquito bites. Treatments: Apply anti-itch creams like calamine as needed to help prevent scratching • Use anti-inflammatory creams like cortisone cream to help ease the inflammation and itching • If there is severe itching and multiple bug bites use antihistamines like Benedryl. Because they tend to make children drowsy, they work particularly well at night. •  Antihistamines like Claritin, Allegra, and Zyrtec tend to be much less sedating, buit check with your pediatrician about the correct dosage and whether these products are safe for children. Other Suggestions:
 Keep your child's fingernails cut short to prevent scratching • Apply cold wet compresses to the area to ease discomfort • Have your child wear long pants and long sleeves (if the temperature is bearable) • Make sure window screens are used if you keep windows open in your home • Use insect repellant to help prevent bites from occurring Choosing an Insect Repellant DEET is the best insect repellant in terms of effectiveness against flies, gnats, chiggers, ticks and other insects. The higher the DEET concentration the better it works. For children, however, the EPA recommends a concentration of 10 percent or less to prevent side effects and toxicity.

Scorpions Scorpion bites are painful but mostly harmless. The only dangerous scorpion in North America, probably the most venomous of all North American bugs is the bark scorpion. Bark scorpions are found in all of Arizona, extending west across the Colorado River in to California and east in to New Mexico. Scorpions are related to spiders, ticks and mites. Usually, they only sting to protect themselves or of they feel threatened. Scorpions can get caught up in bedding or crawl in to shoes so always check your child’s clothing and bed if you suspect scorpions may be around.  Scorpion stings without a serious reaction can be treated with ice on the sting and over-the-counter pain medication. Bark scorpion anti-venom is available only in Arizona. Any sting that shows signs of a bark scorpion needs to be treated at a hospital. Anti-venom has been shown to significantly reduce the effects of the sting. Children love to be outside in the spring and summer when the daylight is longer and the backyard, playground, or campsite can become a magical play space. Insect bites are bound to happen. Most are just an annoyance, but make sure you know which ones to be concerned about and which ones may just require a hug and a kiss. For pictures of several types of insects such as Black Widow and Brown Recluse spiders, check out

Daily Dose

Summertime Can Mean Snakebites

1:15 to read

Due to wet weather, snakes are being oushed out into the open. What does it mean? There is a higher risk of being bitten by a snake. News reports have families on alert: snakes are being pushed out into the open.  More snakes mean the potential for more snakebites.  I have never treated a patient with a snakebite and thought they were quite uncommon. Unfortunately, a rattlesnake bit a friend of mine (they are out of the hospital and doing well) so upon review I have learned a lot more about venomous snakebites.

There are actually over 45,000 snakebites reported in the U.S. each year. The majority of these are due to non-poisonous snakes and often requires little or no treatment. The days of the old Cowboy movies showing rope tourniquets being applied to the area of the bite and the cutting and “sucking” of the venom are over! Don’t start practicing “movie medicine” if you find yourself dealing with a snakebite. There are about 8,000 venomous snakebites reported each year. Fortunately, with these large numbers and the advent of anti-venom, only six to eight people die each year secondary to a venomous snakebite. Unfortunately, due to their smaller size, children do not handle snakebites as well as adults, and the fatality rate is higher in children.

In the U.S. 99% of poisonous snakebites are by the subfamily pit viper, which includes rattlesnakes, copperheads and cottonmouths (YUCK). The other species of poisonous snake found in the U.S. is the coral snake. I am not going to detail the specific treatment for each type of bite, but if a snake bites your child the first thing to do is to determine if it was a poisonous snake. Non-poisonous snakebites cause minimal pain, no swelling and really only require local wound care with irrigation and antibacterial soap. If the bite is thought to be from a poisonous snake the child should be transported to the nearest hospital. Do not put a tourniquet around the bite, apply ice or suction the area of the bite as these are all thought to cause more tissue damage than benefit.

Pit viper bites typically cause symptoms of swelling, bruising and progression within minutes of the bite. Children typically have more severe symptoms with nausea, vomiting, sweating, muscle weakness and clotting abnormalities, all of which are a medical emergency. Anti-venom should be delivered within four hours of the bite and will be given until improvement in systemic symptoms is achieved. All of this is done in the ICU setting. That’s your daily dose, we’ll chat again tomorrow.

Send your question or comment to Dr. Sue right now!

Daily Dose

Treating Summer Insect Stings

1:30 to read

I am sure there is a purpose for stinging insects in the animal kingdom, but they are quite a nuisance in the human kingdom during the summer months.Staying with the subject of summer ills, I thought it was also appropriate to discuss stinging insects. Stinging insects belong to the order Hymenoptera that includes honeybees, bumble bees, yellow jackets, hornets, wasps and fire ants. I am sure there is a purpose for these insects in the animal kingdom, but they are quite a nuisance in the human kingdom during the summer months.

The stinger of the insects delivers their venom to the victim. A honeybee can only sting one time and then dies, while wasps, hornets and yellow jackets may sting multiple times. Bees are actually docile, not very aggressive and typically do not sting, while yellow jackets and hornets are very aggressive (kind of like different types of people). Fire ants, which are so common in the southern and central U.S., also deliver multiple stings by anchoring their little jaws and actually pivoting while they are biting you. Again, the most common reactions to insect stings are local reactions with pain, redness, and swelling at the sting site. These symptoms usually resolve within several hours and require treatment with the local application of cold compresses, a paste of baking powder or meat tenderizer and analgesia with acetaminophen or ibuprofen.

There are also cases of marked local swelling and redness that develops over 12 -24 hours and may be quite large. Again, if this occurs within in the first one to two days following an insect sting, it is unlikely to be due to a bacterial infection. It may take up to five to 10 days to totally resolve and is not dangerous, but may be quite uncomfortable. In some cases a short burst of oral steroids may be required to reduce the inflammation. A systemic allergic reaction “anaphylaxis” to an insect sting is defined as “causing signs and symptoms in at least two organ systems distant from the site of the sting”. These symptoms may be cutaneous such as generalized, hives, swelling of lips, mouth or tongue and itching, or involve respiratory tract with difficulty breathing, hoarseness and difficulty swallowing. The symptoms may also involve GI tract with vomiting, nausea and abdominal pain, or circulatory system with dizziness, decrease in BP and loss of consciousness. Although children have a lower frequency of anaphylactic reactions to insect stings than adults, the above symptoms are a medical emergency and require immediate intervention.

If your child has ever had a systemic, anaphylactic reaction to an insect sting they should be prescribed an autoinjectable epinephrine device (Twinject/Epipen) and an anaphylaxis treatment plan for its use. Recent evidence also supports prescribing these devices for children who have experienced a generalized acute hive like rash after a sting because of the 10% risk of a more severe reaction from a future sting. It should be emphasized that multiple doses of epinephrine may be needed (in one study 16 -35%) in treating an anaphylactic reaction after a sting and therefore anyone who has used their own epinephrine should seek immediate medical care as they may require more doses. Children should also have action plans for school, camp etc and should wear a medical identification bracelet.

That’s your daily dose, we’ll chat again tomorrow.

Daily Dose

Treating Bee Stings

Bee stings are a right of passage during childhood, always memorable, but never fun.I was outside today and noticed that the bees are back, pollinating the flowers in my garden, but ready to sting too if they are crossed by bare feet or errant hands. Bee stings are a right of passage during childhood, always memorable, but never fun. Our office receives numerous calls about how to handle a bee sting. First thing is to get some ice or a cool compress on the sting, which relives both PAIN and swelling.

While the ice is working you can take a peek and see if the stinger is still in the skin, and if so do not go grab tweezers or your fingernails to try and remove the stinger. If you do that you will only make the sting worse. The best way to remove the stinger is by using the edge of a credit card to gently scrape the stinger out of the skin. Honey Bees leave behind their stinger while wasps and hornets do not. Unless the child is allergic to bee stings most people will only have a local reaction. If there are any symptoms associated with the sting such as swelling of face, mouth, lips, or difficulty swallowing or breathing, give an immediate dose of Benadryl (diphenhydramine) while calling 911. If the child has a known bee hypersensitivity and they have an epi pen you will need to use it and also call 911. For local reactions after the sting is cleaned you can apply calamine lotion or a topical steroid cream. For swelling and discomfort a dose of Benadryl is also recommended, as well as a pain reliever like ibuprofen which will also relieve local inflammation along with pain relief. The sting is usually not uncomfortable for more than 24 hours. Make sure to watch for signs of infection with increasing redness, streaking or pain at the site of the sting. If the area seems to be getting worse rather than better it is a good idea to let you pediatrician take a peek. That's your daily dose for today, we'll chat again tomorrow.

Daily Dose


1:30 to read

It is the time of year many families are spending time outdoors including camping and hiking. I often get phone calls from worried parents about finding a tick on their children and concerns about what to do.  Ticks are most active in the warmer months (April - Sept), while we are also enjoying vacations.  Many parents are concerned about tick borne illnesses,  as well as just being “grossed” out with the idea of finding a tick on their child. 

The number one thing to remember is to try to prevent a tick bite, which means using insecticide before you plan on hiking etc. It is important to use a product that contains enough DEET, so if you are going to an area with an increased incidence of ticks ( especially that carry disease)  use a product that contains 20-30% DEET, which will provide several hours of protection.  Make sure to avoid your child’s hands, eyes and mouth.   You can also spray your clothes with a permethrin product prior to exposure.  Interestingly, the clothes that have been sprayed with a 0.5% permethrin product remain protective through several washings.  

Now that you have protection before you go out you want to bathe or shower after you return from an outdoor activity, and the sooner the better.  This is the best time to check your child for ticks. Check their head and hair as well as in the ears, belly button, groin, between their legs and under their arms. 

If you find a tick use fine tipped tweezers to grasp the head of the tick as close to the skin as possible. Resist the urge to “yank” the tick, but rather apply slow steady upward pressure to release the tick from the skin. Once the tick is removed wash the area with alcohol or soap and water.  It is a myth that you can remove the tick by painting it with fingernail polish.  

While not all ticks transmit disease, in certain areas of the country the black-legged deer tick may cause Lyme disease.   In most cases a tick must be attached for 36-48 hours before the bacteria (Borrelia burgdorferi) is transmitted. So, back to the bath and look for ticks after you are home for the day. 

Once the tick is removed and the area is cleaned you are generally good to go. You do not need to “save” the tick to show to the doctor. But, if you live in an area known for Lyme disease ( the Northeastern U.S. in particular), watch for a red bull’s eye rash that spreads over several days. This typically occurs within a week after the tick bite. A small red bump left after the tick bite is not the same thing and will resolve in a day or two, rather than “grow”. Lyme disease also causes fever, chills, headache, joint pains and swollen lymph nodes. 

Lyme disease is best treated early with a course of antibiotics….so if concerned seek treatment in the early stages of infection.

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When should you keep your child home from school?

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