Living in Northeast Ohio makes us all realize that sunshine and blue skies are not to be taken for granted. But where there is summer, there are bugs. And where there are bugs, there are bites and stings. To keep them from spoiling your warm-weather fun, remember these common sense tips.
Beating the biters
• Eliminate areas of standing water in your yard. Clogged gutters, wading pools and birdbaths are natural breeding grounds for mosquitoes.
• Plant repellent herbs like geranium, lemon balm, catnip, basil, lemon thyme and lemongrass.
• Burn candles with aromatic oils like citronella, or use spray machines that release those oils into the air over time.
• Try natural repellents with soybean oil or lemon eucalyptus, which supposedly protect against mosquitoes for about 90 minutes.
• If you’re going out into the woods or going out at night, wear long-sleeved lightweight shirts, pants and shoes.
• When you need to use chemical repellents like DEET, protect your eyes and nose from absorbing ambient spray and spray your pant legs, shoes or other articles of clothing to minimize direct contact on skin. Protect young children, and bathe as soon as possible to remove toxic residues.
• Clean bites with mild soap and water, pat them dry and resist the urge to scratch. If you can’t resist rubbing or scratching, try mixing two parts baking soda to one part water and applying the paste directly onto the bite. An ice pack (or even a cold can of soda or bottled water) can soothe bites, too.
• Try applying aloe vera gel, which cools and forms a protective layer. Calamine lotion or topical anesthetics and anti-inflammatories like ibuprofen can help reduce swelling.
• Because mosquitoes can carry diseases like West Nile or encephalitis, contact your doctor is you begin to experience headaches, fever, vomiting, chills or muscle aches.
Most tick bites are probably harmless. Ticks that have never fed, if handled properly, will not cause any problems. The earlier a tick is removed, the less likely it will transmit disease.
• Check for ticks after spending time in woodsy areas, and make sure to remove them from the skin as soon as possible. Deer ticks that transmit Lyme disease are so small that they may be nearly undetectable.
• Localized reactions to tick bites include redness, itching and burning. Symptoms from illnesses transmitted by ticks may not show up until days or weeks after you are bitten.
Removing a tick
• Protect your hands to avoid spreading pathogens.
• Using tweezers, grasp the tick as close to the skin as possible and pull gently until the tick comes free. (Don’t twist or turn the tick. This could break off its head and increase the chance of infection.)
• Clean the bite area with soap and water or a mild disinfectant. Apply antibiotic cream and watch the bite for development of a rash or other reaction.
• Once removed, don’t crush the tick, rinse it down a sink or flush it down a toilet. Keep it in a tightly closed jar or taped to a piece of paper to show to your doctor if you should become ill.
• Wash your hands thoroughly after handling the tick. Clean and disinfect any instruments you used. Remaining portions of the tick should be removed by a doctor.
Treatments for tick bites range from Benadryl to oral antibiotics. Detailed blood tests, IV medications and even hospital stays may be necessary for more serious or late-treated infections.
If you live in a tick-infested area and have experienced a fever within the last two months, you should not donate blood.
Outsmarting bees and other stingers
• Pay attention to where you’re walking and wear shoes instead of sandals in grassy areas since clover and other flowering ground covers are hot spots for pollinating bees.
• Avoid wearing perfume or heavily scented soaps outdoors and opt for drab (not bright) colored clothing—all things that will make you less attractive to bees and wasps.
• Fast movements, like swinging your arms, can provoke a wasp to sting. Tough as it seems, it’s better to wait calmly for the insect to fly away on its own or gently push it off your arm with a piece of paper.
• Yellowjackets especially are attracted to food. To keep them from spoiling your next picnic, keep food covered, clean up spills quickly and have a fly-swatter nearby. Be especially careful with open cans of soda. Check them before drinking directly from the can or stuff a napkin in the opening to keep pests out.
Treating a sting
• It’s important to remove the stinger—the sooner, the better—to try to minimize the toxins that enter your body.
• Clean the site of the sting with rubbing alcohol or soap and water to prevent infection. Apply a paste of meat tenderizer and water or use white toothpaste to neutralize the venom and help reduce future swelling and pain.
• Over-the-counter antihistamines like Benydryl also reduce swelling, and anti-inflammatories like ibuprofen or acetaminophen can ease the pain.
• Use ice packs to minimize swelling and numb the itch. Calamine lotion helps relieve itching, too.
For more severe reactions
• Watch closely for itching, redness, hives or shortness of breath—which can be signs of anaphylaxis (life-threatening hypersensitivities.) Benadryl can slow an anaphylactic reaction, but will not stop it.
• If someone has been stung more than
10 times or if they’ve been stung inside the nose, mouth or throat, a visit to the ER is in order.
• If you’re with someone who has a known allergy to stings, don’t wait for their symptoms to appear. Help them find and use their epinephrine auto-injector, EpiPen, immediately or call 9-1-1.