I remember spending countless hours outdoors as a child when the weather was nice. Riding my bike, building forts and hiking through the creeks and fields that surrounded my neighborhoods was a normal part of growing up, and I never thought twice about it. Nor did my parents. As a child of the ‘60s, no one ever worried about potential dangers of kids playing in their neighborhoods, other than to be aware of strangers.
But children today face new risks and challenges, even when they come presented in tiny packages—ticks, especially if you happen to live in New England, the Central Midwest or other parts of the world where ticks are found. Specific types of ticks called black-legged ticks or deer ticks are known to spread Lyme disease and other types of infections. When the tick bites you, it can transmit bacteria or viruses through its saliva, causing infection.
These ticks are incredibly tiny to the naked eye, so can be easy to miss, even if you are looking for them. While some children get Lyme disease and recover quickly with treatment, others go on to develop post-Lyme syndrome or more commonly referred to as chronic Lyme disease.
Prevention is always the best medicine, so here are 5 important tips to help prevent Lyme disease:
1. Wear long clothing when outdoors
Ticks need to attach to your skin to bite you, so wearing protective clothing prevents the tick from making direct contact with your skin. Although it may be uncomfortable when it’s warm outside, it’s the best way to protect your child against a tick bite. Dress your kids in long pants, a long sleeve shirt, socks and shoes to get the most protection.
2. Use a natural tick repellent
Research shows that essential oils from several plants can help keep ticks away, especially those of lemongrass, cedar, lavender, geranium and eucalyptus. It is best to spray the oil over the clothing and not directly on the skin to prevent any skin irritation. I recommend avoiding using potentially toxic chemicals such as DEET, which can cause skin irritation, burning eyes, difficulty breathing and headaches.
3. Avoid letting children play in areas with dense brush, bushes, high grass or deep woods
These are areas where ticks tend to live, so the best prevention is to stay away from their home.
4. Keep your yard safe
Plant trees, shrubs and flowers away from areas that your kids normally play. Ticks cannot jump, so avoiding direct contact with these plants greatly reduces the risk of getting a tick bite. Spraying your yard with garlic oil has been shown to reduce the number of ticks by up to 60%. You may need to apply the garlic oil several times over the course of the year, but it is safe for people, pets and plants.
5. Do regular tick checks
When your kids come in from playing outside, have them remove their clothes and examine their skin closely for ticks. Ticks like to go to the warm, moist areas of the body, so the back of the knees, armpits, groin and scalp are common places for ticks to migrate. However, it is a good idea to look over their entire body to make sure there are no ticks on or attached to their skin.
If you find a tick, you want to remove it as soon as possible. Early removal of a tick can significantly lower the risk of getting Lyme disease.
There are so many health benefits to being outdoors, including getting physical activity, breathing fresh air and having sun exposure to help maintain healthy levels of vitamin D. If you live in an area where Lyme disease is common, it would be easy to want to keep your kids indoors to help protect them against Lyme disease. But part of growing up is being able to experience all the wonderful things the outdoors has to offer.
After I was infected with Lyme disease, I admit, I was hesitant to spend much time in my yard, go hiking or really do anything that involved spending any significant time outside the comfort of house walls. Living in Connecticut (Lyme disease is named after Lyme, Connecticut), I knew that I was in the “hot zone” of Lyme. But I have learned to overcome this fear of ticks and be vigilant when I am outside. I protect myself and have enjoyed being an outdoors person again.
You can do the same things for your children and family and take advantage of being out in Mother Nature.
Learn more about the symptoms of Lyme disease here. If you have any concerns, contact your child’s pediatrician.