How to take the sting out of summer

July 24, 2012

Summer is here. And along with all the outdoor fun comes the chance of bug bites and stings.

For most of us, biting and stinging insects are just small nuisances. But for some people, they can cause a serious problem, according to MedicalNewsToday.com.

Margie Andreae, M.D., is an associate professor at the University of Michigan Medical School. She said about three percent of people can develop a severe reaction to a bug bite.

Andreae offers tips to help treat insect bites and stings.

Tips for treating insect stings

  • Remove the stinger. If a bee or wasp stings you, see if there is any stinger left. If there is, use a firm object like a credit card to sweep across the site. Use this method to pull out the stinger. Don't squeeze or pinch the skin to remove the stinger. This will cause additional venom to be released into the bite.
  • Clean the area. Use soap and water to thoroughly cleanse the site of the sting.
  • Put ice on it. "Most people are going to develop redness and swelling at the site of the sting," said Andreae. You can treat those reactions by putting a cool compress or ice on the area.
  • Add hydrocortisone cream. Dabbing hydrocortisone cream on the site of the sting will help soothe redness and pain.
  • Take a pain reliever and an antihistamine. "You can use Benadryl in the oral form to control redness, swelling, and irritation, and ibuprofen or Tylenol to relieve pain," said Andreae.
  • Sometimes, a severe allergic reaction can occur. The reaction can include difficulty breathing or swallowing. Andreae said to call 911 and get emergency care immediately.

People who are allergic to insect bites should take precautions. They should carry a card, bracelet, or necklace that lets people know about their allergy. Your doctor may have prescribed a medication for you. The medication should be used in case of an allergic reaction. It is important that both you and your family know exactly how to use it.

Protecting your family against mosquito bites and West Nile virus

When you're looking for the best repellents to prevent bites, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommendations.

It says to only use repellents that have ingredients meeting Environmental Protection Agency approval. Products with these ingredients typically last for long periods after being applied.

EPA-registered products that provide enough repellent to help you avoid the bites of disease carrying mosquitoes are:

  • DEET (Chemical Name: N,N-diethyl-m-toluamide or N,N-diethly-3-methyl-benzamide)
  • Picaridin (KBR 3023, Chemical Name: 2-(2-hydroxyethyl)-1-piperidinecarboxylic acid 1-methylpropyl ester)
  • Oil of lemon eucalyptus or PMD (Chemical Name: para-Menthane-3,8-diol) the synthesized version of oil of lemon eucalyptus
  • IR3535 (Chemical Name: 3-[N-Butyl-N-acetyl]-aminopropionic acid, ethyl ester)

EPA says the active ingredients DEET and picaridin are "conventional repellents" and oil of lemon eucalyptus, PMD, and IR3535 are "bio pesticide repellents," which come from natural materials. For more information on repellent active ingredients, see www.epa.gov/pesticides/health/mosquitoes/ai_insectrp.htm .

No matter what product you use, if you start to get mosquito bites, reapply the repellent according to the label instructions. Get away from the area with biting insects if possible.

CDC also suggests using repellents on clothes, shoes, bed nets, and camping gear. Registered with EPA for this use is permethrin. It is a highly effective insecticide and repellent. Permethrin-treated clothing repels and kills ticks, mosquitoes, and other insects and spiders and keeps working after repeated laundering.

EPA recommends when using insect repellents:

  • Apply repellents only to exposed skin and/or clothing (as directed on the product label.) Do not use repellents under clothing.
  • Never use repellents over cuts, wounds or irritated skin.
  • Do not apply to eyes or mouth, and apply sparingly around ears. When using sprays, do not spray directly on face. Spray on hands first and then apply to face.
  • Do not allow children to handle the bug spray. When using on children, apply to your own hands first and then put it on the child. You may not want to apply to children's hands. 
  • Use just enough repellent to cover exposed skin and/or clothing. If insects bite you after you've applied the repellent, then apply a bit more.
  • After coming inside, take a bath or shower to get the repellent off. Also, wash treated clothing before wearing it again.
  • If you or your child gets a rash or other bad reaction from an insect repellent, stop using the repellent, wash the repellent off with mild soap and water, and call a local poison control center
  • If you go to a doctor because of the repellent, take the repellent with you to show the doctor.

The label for products containing oil of lemon eucalyptus says that they should not to be used on children younger than 3. For more information on the use of repellent on children, visit the CDC's Frequently Asked Questions about Repellent Use.

Andreae said the most common insects to cause problems for children are mosquitoes.

"Mosquito bites generally cause a localized reaction in most children. But parents often mistake this reaction as something more severe," she said. Andreae added many parents might think a bite is an infection. And that brings them into the clinic to be seen by a clinician.

Severe reactions to a mosquito bite are extremely rare. Reactions usually happen about three to four days after the insect bite. "That is the time when the bite should be healing and nearly gone," Andreae said.

Plants

Bugs are not the only things in nature that cause summer problems. Many rashes are caused by plants — especially those with spines or thorns. These plants include cacti and prickly pear, figs, mulberries, thistles, and saw palmetto.

According to Medicinenet.com , if the spine gets under your skin, it can cause itchiness and bumps. The rash is typically not a problem. But you can develop a staph or fungal infection if microbes are present.

The most well known plants linked to skin rashes and irritations are poison ivy, oak, and sumac. These plants contain a sap called urushiol. Urushiol causes a rash when it comes in contact with the skin in about 50% of adults in North America.

The rash often comes with blisters arranged in streaks. This typically happens within hours or up to four days after exposure. It doesn't always come on at the same time. People often mistakenly assume a new rash means they were exposed again.

How should you treat plant allergies?

That depends on the plant and the reaction.

In the case of cacti or other spiny plants, the spine should be carefully removed from the skin. Usually, you should use tweezers. If it's a really small spine, apply glue and gauze to the site. Then, allow it to dry and peel it off.

Minor itching, irritation, or rash can be typically treated with an oral antihistamine or over-the-counter topical steroid. But if a rash doesn't respond to over-the-counter treatments, you should see a skin doctor. In cases where a rash is accompanied by more severe reactions such as difficulty in breathing or swallowing, go to the emergency room immediately.

If you come in contact with poison ivy, rinse the skin with water immediately. About 50% of the urushiol will come off if you rinse within 10 minutes. But avoid soap; it can spread the resin.

So be careful and be safe this summer. Take care of bug bites and stings as soon as possible. And be on the lookout for the plants that cause rashes.