Treatment of Bug Bites

First an update.  I went outside to clean up the yard last night and the mosquitos were in a frenzy.  I poured some Listerine around the area and it really did seem to help.  As I like to limit any household chores to fifteen minutes or less, I can’t say how long it lasted.  Also, I have had some questions about bug spray and sunscreen.  Studies have shown that products which contain both, while effective, increase the absorption rate of DEET.  While DEET has a very good track record for safety, it is probably best to limit your exposure when you can.  For this reason, just use enough on your body to lightly coat, wash when you come indoors and wash any clothes you have sprayed.  If you need bug spray and sunscreen, choose an unscented sunscreen and put it on first.  Wait fifteen minutes or so and then apply bug spray.  As it is, it takes me 1/2 hour to get my kids beach ready.  I may just have them take their chances with bugs during daylight hours – it will toughen the little wimps up.

Now onto treatment of bug bites.

1.  Prevent infection – As with anytime there is a break in the skin, cleaning the area is a good idea.  Most fly and mosquito bites don’t leave an open wound but spider bites, tick bites and bee stings can.  If there is a noticeable interruption of skin, apply an antibiotic cream.  Try not to scratch as this not only irritates the skin further but introduces lots of bacteria from the fingernails.

2.  How to keep from scratching an itchy bite. – I did a little experiment with my kids.  I put benadryl anti-itch cream on 1/2 their bites and nothing on the others.  They all reported that the ones with the treatment did not itch at all.  I tried it myself except I put it on all my bites because I’m not inclined to suffer even for science.  It did actually work.  The itching comes from your body’s reaction to the saliva of the insect.  Theoretically, anything that cools your immune response, will stop the itch.  Benadryl has an anti-histimine effect.  Creams with steroids like hydrocortisone, also combat your body’s immune reaction.   Ice is a great anti-inflammatory and should moderately help the itch. Home remedies include everything from chewing tobacco to crushed aspirin to baking soda.

3.  Bee stings – When I was about ten years old, I read a book called, “A Taste of Blackberries”.  In it, a little kid dies of a bee sting and the best friend is left behind.  This has stayed with me as some stories will.  The truth is, while 3% of people have an allergy to bee stings, less than 1% of people will have an anaphylactic reaction.  About 50 people die of bee stings each year and the reaction is sudden and violent and can only be treated by an epipen.  If you have had a strong reaction to a bee sting in the past and are stung again, call 911.  If you are stung in the mouth or nose, call 911 as the swelling can interfere with breathing.  If vomiting, wheezing, diarrhea or hives distant from the site of the sting occur, call 911.  Otherwise, take a deep breath.  Most people have only a local, irritating reaction to a bee sting.  Unlike wasps, yellow jackets and hornets whose stingers usually retract after the sting, honey bees have a stinger that may stay in.  If you see a black dot on the site, use something flat like a credit card or butter knife and slide it over the area to tease the stinger out.  The venom is released for about 2-3 minutes so if you can get the stinger out, you will reduce the severity of the reaction.  Apply ice to the area and then clean it with an antiseptic solution.  Use a topical hydrocortisone cream or alternatively, a paste made from meat tenderizer and water or baking soda and water can neutralize the venom.  If pain and swelling persists, take ibuprofen and an oral anti-histamine like Benadryl.

4.  If you notice a tick on your skin, get it off but do it properly.  Don’t panic and take your time.  In order to transmit Lyme disease, a tick has to be feeding on your skin for about 24 hours.  Do not scratch at it, burn it with a match or try to poison it.  Extract it with a blunt tweezer or foreceps taking care not to twist or crush it.  Check the crime scene carefully for leftover body parts and get them out as best you can.  After a long day outdoors, all you want is a nice cold cocktail.  Fight the urge for as long as it takes to thoroughly check yourself and your kids for ticks, especially if you are in an area with deer.  A tick bite doesn’t hurt so it is very easy to miss.  Wash your clothes to avoid getting bit later.  Because ticks are very hearty, it is important to then dry your clothes in a hot dryer to ensure that any little bugs that hitched a ride get what they deserve.

5.  When to worry – Summer is a time for outdoor fun and relaxation.  Days are longer, there is no homework, work hours may be lighter.  It is not a time to stress about bug bites.  Get out there and have a good time.  Worrying about everything that crawls or flies is useless.  Making your children fearful will come back to bite you where the sun don’t shine.  But, use common sense.  Signs that you should get medical attention for a bite include increased swelling, leakage of pus, warmth to the touch and increased pain despite home treatment.  Of course, if systemic symptoms like fever, nausea, dizziness occur, get to a doctor.

I have found that the best remedy for children with run of the mill bites and stings is attention.  Most kids just want some acknowledgement that they are itchy or irritated.  Even though I vowed not to be sympathetic, I am good at faking it.  A kiss, a little ice, a “I hate that this happened to you”, and a few minutes on my lap all go a long way.  The truth is, I’m a big softy and I do feel bad for them.  If I could get rid of all the bad guys in their life, including mosquitos, bees, and crooked politicians, I would – but, I can’t.  I can only arm them with the skills to cope – and that is no small task.

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