Dealing with the Itches of Summer

Summer is here! I love summer for so many reasons—my husband is a teacher and has all the days off, we go on family vacations, swim, garden, eat popsicles, and so much more! Summer also ushers in its own nuisances—one of which is hordes of insects! I have three daughters and I am also a pediatric RN so I wanted to share all the tips I know for taking care of those pesky and itchy bug bites that are part of a San Antonio summer. 

We all use repellents and other products to keep mosquitoes away from our homes and children. Many websites have analyzed and reviewed these products. The New York Times Wirecutter review website recommends repellent sprays that contain picaridin and are easy to apply and suggests Thermacell as the best home device. You can find all their reviews for repellent here and reviews for home devices here

However, it is inevitable that we all get bitten anyway—for example, when my three-year-old daughter runs outside to swing after school and I don’t catch her to apply repellent, or when my husband leaves the door open and those sneaky mosquitoes get inside the house. What can we do to help and stop that itch? And when should we be worried about bug bites? 

Natural Remedies 

The common ingredients in natural bug bite soothers are lavender, tea tree oil, vinegar, and aloe vera. These ingredients work because they have natural anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial, and pain relief properties. 

Essential Oils 

Lavender: Quality lavender essential oil can be mixed with a carrier oil—coconut oil is an excellent choice—and applied directly to bug bites. Here is a recipe for an essential oil roller blend. If you are new to essential oils, here are more detailed instructions.

10 ml Lavender Rollerball blend:

2 drops of lavender essential oil

Fill the rest of the bottle with carrier oil.

Tea tree oil: Tea tree oil is famous for its anti-inflammatory properties and has been added to acne soaps and creams galore. Therefore, it is also recommended to apply directly to annoying bites, and exactly like lavender oil, it is most beneficial when mixed with a carrier oil. Here is the essential oil roller blend recipe for tea tree oil: 

10 ml Tea Tree Rollerball blend:

2 drops of tea tree (melaleuca) essential oil

2 drops of lavender essential oil

Fill the rest of the bottle with carrier oil.

Household Products

Ice: Ice is probably the simplest and cheapest of bug bite remedies. Wrap a piece of ice in a washcloth and apply for ten minutes. A reusable gel ice pack can also be used in the same way. Ice is helpful because it numbs irritated nerves and skin. 

Apple Cider Vinegar: The acidity of apple cider vinegar can help nix the itch of bug bites. I recommend making a 50/50 mixture of water and apple cider vinegar and then applying it to bug bites. Make sure that skin is intact before applying apple cider vinegar to prevent stinging. This remedy is also typically a short-term remedy. 

Oatmeal: Mix equal parts water and oatmeal and mush together until pasty. Apply the paste directly to the bite and leave for ten minutes before wiping away. If you or your child’s entire body happens to be covered in bug bites you could also do an oatmeal bath by following these steps: 

  1. Take one cup of unflavored oatmeal (old-fashioned or quick-cooking work equally well) and blend it into a fine powder with a food processor. 
  2. Run a lukewarm bath and sprinkle in the oatmeal powder while the water is running. 
  3. Allow children to sit in the oatmeal bath for up to 20 minutes. 

Blending the oatmeal into a powder is helpful because it releases the moisturizing properties and allows the oatmeal to drain out of your bathtub. 

Personally, as a mother of three young children, I find that using these household product remedies is not very practical due to the fact that my children won’t sit still and hold ice on their bug bites or don’t want oatmeal paste rubbed on them!

Here are my personal recommendations for natural remedies. These are must-haves in our home during mosquito season! 

  • This is an essential oil roller ball recipe that combines multiple anti-inflammatory essential oils and carrier oil.

10 ml Itch Relief Rollerball blend:

2 drops of lavender essential oil 

2 drops of tea tree essential oil

2 drops of basil essential oil

Fill the rest of the bottle with carrier oil.

  • This Bug Bite relief stick (with main ingredients shea butter, lavender, and tea tree) is made by the Creek House Honey Farms in Canyon, TX. 

Creams and Ointments

When choosing a cream to use on our children we always need to look at the active ingredients and concentration. The majority of these products have either diphenhydramine (also known as Benadryl), hydrocortisone, or pramoxine as the primary ingredient. Some products also supplement with lidocaine, benzocaine, or calamine for more painful bites and irritated skin. The products that get the best reviews are easy to apply and absorb quickly. And there are products galore in this category!

Diphenhydramine comes as a topical analgesic in a variety of sizes and ways to apply: ointment, gel, or spray. This ingredient can be found in products made by Benadryl, Gold Bond, Aveeno, and generic brands. I personally recommend the spray version for quick application. Cortisone is only available as an ointment and is equally available for a minimal price at most stores. Pramoxine is a specific antipruritic (anti-itch) ingredient, another over-the-counter option for topical ointments. Calamine, a widely used soothing medical ingredient, is also added to many widely available OTC medicines. Aveeno makes an anti-itch concentrated lotion that combines pramoxine, calamine, and oatmeal for maximum itch relief. 

It may take trial and error to find which ointment works best for your family, as some people respond better to different active ingredients than others and some can cause skin irritation for certain people. If it is your first time using a cream, buy a trial size first to save money! 

Prescribed medications

Some people have more severe reactions to mosquito, fire ant, or wasp stings. You can talk to your primary care doctor to see if they would recommend a daily dose of an oral antihistamine. This is recommended for some people who get bites or stings that regularly become red and inflamed and stay irritated for multiple days despite using the above remedies or OTC ointments. 

When to Worry and Severe Reactions

So the big question is, “When should I be worried about a bug bite or sting and what do I do then?” Bug bites can and do occasionally get infected and need doctor or hospital care to manage. We typically play a role in causing the infection of a bug bite by scratching and introducing bacteria to the bite with our hands—an infection called cellulitis is a common culprit. Children usually have a difficult time not scratching these bites. That’s why it’s important to use your choice of remedy to alleviate the itch and hopefully limit scratching. For stubborn scratchers, we can also place antibiotic ointment and a bandaid over the site to discourage scratching (this can be particularly helpful overnight). 

Signs and symptoms of an infected bug bite are: 

  • persistent and enlarging red area around the bite
  • red streaks/lines spreading from the bug bite site, warmth and swelling to the area
  • increasing pain
  • any type of pus or drainage from the site
  • fever 

For any single or combination of these symptoms, you need to see your physician. 

Some children can also have severe or anaphylactic shock caused by insect bites. Fire ants, wasps, or bees are the common insects that can trigger anaphylactic shock. This is because they inject venom into our skin that can trigger the immune response. Mosquitoes, ticks, or flea bites rarely trigger severe allergic reactions. Severe allergic reactions are more common in older children and adults due to the fact that the more often a person gets stung and the venom is introduced into the body, the more likely it can escalate and develop anaphylaxis. Any of the following is considered a sign of anaphylaxis and should be considered a true medical emergency, and the patient should receive immediate medical care. Don’t wait to see if symptoms resolve before calling or seeking help.

  • Swollen tongue or throat
  • Constriction of airways (causes wheezing and trouble breathing)
  • Dizziness or fainting
  • Confusion
  • Hypotension (low blood pressure), rapid heart rate
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Skin rash, hives
  • Flushed and pale skin
  • Unconsciousness 

In Review

The majority of insect bites are a minor, if seemingly endless nuisance. We have a variety of effective and safe choices to help our children deal with the temporary itch of a bug bite. There are so many helpful products available that I definitely did not attempt to list them all. Let’s help each other enjoy this season by taking the itch out of summer. Tell me in the comments what works best for your family! Have a great summer!


This is the first of what will be a monthly wellness or “ask a nurse” post, and I would love to know what topics this community wants to know more about! Please feel free to comment below with potential topics for future posts.