How safe is your yard?

Of course, that depends on who you ask and where you live, right? Spring is gone and summer is here, along with lots of unwanted, pesky bugs. Some are relatively harmless, while others can bring lifelong illness and suffering. Here in the northeast, we have battled the gypsy moth caterpillars yet again, with victory on the horizon (but maybe too late for many of our oak trees). Mosquitos are lurking near every drop of standing water and carry new and dangerous viruses. Ticks in multitudes of species continue to spread Lyme and other diseases to unsuspecting victims.

How can you keep your kids safe in their own yard without spending thousands of dollars in potentially harmful chemicals or pesticides? Barrier treatments are somewhat effective, but rather pricey. The last thing you want your guests taking away from your summer barbecue, picnic or pool party is an itchy rash or sting. Let’s take a look at where you live and what you should be doing to protect your kids and yourself in your own backyard. Be sure to share these tips with your childcare provider and anyone else who might spend time outside with kids this summer.

City Mouse vs Country Mouse (or suburban mouse)? Insects don’t care that you live in the city. They only know they are searching for a food source, maybe you. It really doesn’t matter if you live in a rural or urban area; insects like mosquitos, bees, hornets or yellow jackets, or even ticks will find a way to get to you. Yes, the more rural areas conveniently have many trees, tall grasses and places to hide, but insects can also thrive just as well in urban locations, particularly in parks and gardens.

Avoid times, locations and situations which might be more risky. For example, mosquitos are most active at dawn and dusk, so avoid being outdoors during these times, where clothing to cover most of your skin and use an insect repellant with DEET or Picaridin. Burn citronella candles near your picnic area or plan repellant plants like marigolds, ageratum, catnip or horsemint. Empty all containers which might hold standing water and thus become a breeding area for mosquitos and their diseases.

When planning a picnic, plan it for mid-day rather than mosquitos’ prime time. Avoid walking through tall grasses with bare legs; in other words, stay off the dune grass or chase butterflies while wearing pants! Serve your guests’ drinks in clear plastic cups rather than bottles or cans, which can be great hiding places for stinging pests. (I have been stung on the lip and it is not pretty!) Serving food indoors, keeping trash covered and quickly cleaning up spills can avoid attracting extra unwanted guests too.

If a sting happens, and it probably will, keep calm. If a person is stung by yellow jackets, for example, a baking soda and water paste or ice pack can remove the stinger and reduce swelling. Benadryl is a good medicine to keep on hand this time of year, as it can bring down the effects of allergic reactions very quickly. Some people know of allergies and carry an epi-pen but others don’t know until they are stung and reacting. Of course, if someone is very allergic, be sure to get professional help right away.

Mosquito bites can be treated with anti-itch creams containing lidocaine or benzocaine. Alcohol wipes can be used to reduce itching, as well as other stuff you might have around the house, like aloe vera or honey, a cold tea bag or even an oatmeal bath. These work best with little kids who need to be soothed from their itch so they don’t scratch till they bleed and then cause infection.

Tick bites may not be obvious and symptoms of illness may not show up for days or even weeks. In addition to using an EPA-approved insect repellant and wearing long sleeves and pants, parents should regularly check kids for ticks. Hairline, neck, armpits, groin and pants-line are common, warm places for ticks to hide and bite. Doing a daily tick-check can limit the time a tick may be bitten in, which can limit the spread of possible disease (under 24 hours is best). Clean any bites with alcohol and watch for signs of fever, soreness, vomiting, rash or other problems after a tick bite. Some doctors will prescribe an antibiotic when patients report being bit, as so many develop Lyme disease.

Most parents are aware of the normal summer safety concerns. Shallow water, or just water in general, with kids nearby, is a definite drowning hazard. Flotation devices and pool covers themselves give false security and are very dangerous. Toy guns or other projectile-type toys frequently cause eye injuries. Summer fires, grilling and fireworks cause concerns about burns. Trampolines and bouncy houses can lead to neck and other injuries. Now bugs! What is a parent to do? Follow basic guidelines to keep your yard safe and be vigilant in checking your kids and their play areas for signs of trouble.

Happy playing and have a safe summer!

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