Preventing and Treating Summer’s Bites and Stings
The lure of summer invites us to be outside more often, whether on the beach, at a picnic, or just spending more time in the yard. Along with the joys of being outdoors, however, come a host of bees and insects determined to ruin our fun.
So the family practice doctors at Cohen Medical Associates want to share with you some tips on foiling these pests and treating any damage you can’t avoid.
Preventing insect bites is the first and most effective line of defense.
Mosquitoes can cause Zika, West Nile Virus, malaria, and other serious and even deadly diseases. The insect repellent DEET, at 20 percent or higher strength, is effective in preventing mosquito bites. But picaridin may also repel them.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also recommends oil of lemon eucalyptus (OLE), para-menthane-diol (PMD), or 2-undecanone (methyl nonyl ketone) as effective mosquito repellents, and cautions that people using sunscreen should apply that first, let it dry, then apply mosquito repellant. For that reason, it recommends against using products containing both sunscreen and repellant.
Ticks can cause Lyme disease, which is now found in most states, as well as Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, which is found in all states. DEET will also help repel them, as will garlic, either in tick repellent, or when planted around the yard. Permethrin, when applied outdoors to clothing, shoes, and hats, and allowed to dry, will last through several washings and is known to be an effective tick repellent.
Avoid wearing brightly colored clothing or wearing fragrances that may look or smell like a flower to bees, wasps, and hornets. Walking barefoot through grass can invite stings, as bees hover around clover and may nest in the ground. Never drink from a can or cup that might contain a curious or thirsty insect. Always cover cans or cups with napkins or even a coffee filter or cupcake liner to prevent their venturing inside.
Be aware that killing a bee can often attract its brethren, and that swatting at them or waving them away can excite them. Simply move slowly away from them, unless you’re being pursued by a swarm, in which case run indoors or jump into a pool or pond to escape.
First, look for signs of a serious reaction (anaphylaxis) in anyone who has been bitten or stung. If the person experiences any of the following, seek immediate medical help:
- difficulty breathing
- rapid heartbeat
- dizziness, faintness, or confusion
- unusual redness of the skin (especially where the bite didn’t occur)
- swelling of the lips, eyelids, or throat
- nausea, cramps, or vomiting
While waiting for medical assistance, ask if the person is carrying an epinephrine auto injector, and see if they want help in injecting themselves. Even if they do have an injection kit and use it, they still must be seen by a doctor, so don’t make the mistake of thinking the emergency is over.
Loosen tight clothing and cover the person with a blanket. If they are vomiting, raise the head to prevent choking. Begin CPR if the person loses consciousness.
Less serious bites and stings may still be intensely painful and/or itchy. Here are some ways to treat them.
Remove the stinger as soon as possible by scraping it out (not squeezing, which will release more venom) with a nail file, fingernail, or credit card. Hydrocortisone cream (.5 or 1 percent strength) or calamine lotion applied topically may reduce the pain, itching, and swelling. An over-the-counter antihistamine either taken orally or applied topically may also help with the itching.
A paste of water and aspirin or baking soda or meat tenderizer or powdered activated charcoal (not all four together) works for many people. The charcoal is the kind sold in capsules to relieve gas. Carefully open a couple capsules, add a drop or two of water and apply to the site.
Other folkloric remedies include applying the cut side of onion, vinegar, hot water, lavender, salt, or crushed fresh basil leaves to the site.
In any case, if the bite or sting is still bothering you, especially after a day or two, please contact our primary care doctors in Delray Beach.