It feels like the best thing you can do for your kids in the summer is encourage them to play outdoors, but that can come with some scary health risks. Besides the bumps and bruises they can get while playing outdoors, there's also the chance they will be bitten by a bug. Some bites and stings are just uncomfortable, but some, like tick bites, can leave them with severe illnesses. Many insect repellents may also contain chemicals that themselves can be harmful. Despite this, you still want your kids outside, right? Luckily there are natural tick repellents that actually work and you can get those kids running through the woods and grass again without worrying so much.
Most natural tick repellents seem to be a combination of essential oils. There are many available brands, so you can find the one that works best for your family, or you can buy single oils and concoct your own repellent. Studies have shown DEET, the chemical ingredient in many bug repellents, can be harmful. One study done at Duke University on mice showed that it can "diffuse brain cell death and behavioral changes in rats after frequent and prolonged use."
It might seem like a lot of effort to avoid them, but the danger of ticks is very real. "The east coast here in the U.S., parts of the south and Midwest, and even in California you have the major [tick-borne] disease, which is Lyme disease," said José Ribeiro, M.D., Ph.D., chief of the Vector Biology Section of the Laboratory of Malaria and Vector Research in NIAID's Division of Intramural Research told the National Institute of Heath's Medline Plus publication. "People should be aware of ticks and where they can encounter them. In other parts of the country you have other diseases, like Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever in the Rocky Mountains, and so on."
Lyme disease can cause ongoing symptoms, such as rashes, fever, malaise, joint pain, and neurological problems, according to the Mayo Clinic, while Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever's symptoms include high fever, muscle aches, confusion and neurological damage. Because it damages the lining of your blood vessels, you could wind up with inflammation of the brain, kidney damage, serious infection that can lead to amputation of the limbs, and death. Yeah, these are not diseases you can treat lightly.
Ideally, when hiking, it's good to wear long sleeve shirts, long pants and to tuck your pants into your socks. But if you live somewhere that deer wander, even rolling around in the grass can expose the kids to ticks.
If you live in an area where there is a lot of Lyme disease, be on the lookout for Lyme symptoms and ask your doctor to do a test if you are concerned. Because the symptoms could be mistaken for a virus, many doctors overlook Lyme, but both Lyme and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever respond to antibiotics and the earlier you start the medication the better off you are, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
As far as prevention goes, read the ingredient labels of any repellents you use carefully. Avoid using eucalyptus and rosemary oils on children under 10, according to Lyme Care Now, a medical practice dedicated to the treatment of Lyme disease. Also, many repellents are only effective for a few hours, so it's good to reapply frequently.
No repellent is 100 percent perfect so always check your kids and your pets for ticks if they've spent any time outdoors. But it's good to know that there are products out there that will mostly keep the ticks away and allow you and the kids some good times outdoors.