How do we stop ticks from munching on our kids?

Lesley S Smith

With a leg swelling to almost double its size, my youngest took an allergy to insect bites that were described by the doctor as possibly tick or mosquito bites. It was hard to tell, as the blisters grew in size and the red area around the blisters began to spread viciously. Thankfully he doesn't seem to have the characteristic bulls eye rash that could mean that he was infected by a tick with Lyme disease.

A speedy call to NHS Direct sent us all guns blazing down for antibiotics at midnight, and although we don't know for definite that his bites were from ticks, it is important that we know what to watch for and what to do if we suspect a tick bite.

Tick Bite Prevention Week is from 26th March - 1st April, and with the unseasonally lovely weather we experienced this March, knowing how to deal with insect bites for children is important.

Scratching like mad a couple of years ago, our lovely Labrador had a wriggly fat lump that seemed to be attached to her coat. A friend had a little tick remover and came and pulled it out properly so that the head also came with it. There are signs to watch out for, and seeing a tick attached to skin would be quite frightening for children. Little ones might scratch and knock the body off a tick that is feeding from our children, so it could be difficult to know just what has bitten them.

Let's look at the signs, symptoms and what we need to watch out for.

What are ticks?

Ticks are usually quite small blood suckers that feed on the blood of the people or animals they attach to. The tiny larvae could look like specks of dust and could be as small as little seeds. They could be mistaken for little spiders and brushed off. When it starts to feed, a tick body swells up as it fills with blood. It could stay attached for up to a week before it lets go on its own.

Some people will only know they have been bitten if they see one attached to them, or if they have an allergic reaction. If my boy hadn't had a tick bite rash and a reaction to the bites, we might never have known that he had been bitten at all.

How do children get ticks?

Ticks are not fussy, they will attach to us humans. We could get bites all year round, but they are mainly around from April to October and usually when we are in woods and grassy places. Even our gardens could be the culprit. Our kids love exploring in the great outdoors, and avoiding ticks is always going to be difficult as they drop down from plants and trees as our kids brush past. Dogs roll on earth and grass and could easily pick them up from walking through long grass. We had been for a lovely long walk in an overgrown field the week before we found a tick gaily feasting on her blood.

The Top Ten Tick Facts for children aged 4 - 11 on the Tick Bite Prevention Week website gives some handy information and videos that we can use as parents to talk to our children about what to do if they find one.

Symptoms of a tick bite

NHS24 states that "when an insect bites, it releases saliva that can cause: inflammation (redness and swelling), blisters, irritation."

My son had a slight headache indicating a temperature when the red lumps began to show. We tend to think of bites as being controllable with a dose of anti-histamine, but beware of the possibility for Lyme Disease, Babesiosis or Ehrlichiosis explained by Lyme Disease Action.

If a tick still has the head attached, or there is a temperature, like us, you may need to visit a GP in case of infection. Also visit a GP for effects of blistering, red and itchy lumps or pus. With a dose of antibiotics, my son began to feel better within a couple of doses and the redness began to die down.

How to prevent tick bites

I'm not sure how we could prevent tick bites and still allow our children to roam free and play. I will be heading out this week to buy some insect repellent and making sure he has long trousers tucked into his socks when we are out and about in forests and parks. I don't know how he will react if he gets bitten again, and I suspect the allergy may increase in the future. Making an appointment for him to be allergy tested is now high on my agenda.