A popular pastime in Victoria is hiking and spending time in nature. It grounds us and instills an appreciation for the natural beauty that surrounds us. However, you know me, I like to worry. Nature is also full of insects that bite, sting, cause rashes, allergic reactions and diseases. I hope I didn’t discourage you from spending time in the wilderness. You should be aware that the things buzz around our ears might not be entirely harmless. With a bit of knowledge these insect stings and bites can be treated at home.
There are many little creatures that seek to feast upon our flesh and suck our blood. This seems a little bit dramatic, but I have always wanted to write that. We can divide insect related injuries into two broad categories; stings and bites. Luckily treatment for both of injures are similar. The first thing to do is try and avoid getting stung or bit in the first place. Avoid times when biting insects are active. Generally mosquitoes are most active during dawn and dusk. Wear light coloured clothing and long pants, socks and long sleeved shirts to protect your skin. The insect repellent called DEET works by masking our human scent. For infants six months to two years use a lower strength product (10% DEET) once a day only. Kids 2-12 years can use the 10% DEET up to three times daily. Everyone 12 years and older should use a 30% DEET product. Babies under 6 months of age have very sensitive skin so it is best to avoid contact with insect repellents and sunscreen.
I get asked if citronella and other essential oils can be used as insect repellents. There is some evidence to suggest that citronella is slightly effective, but DEET is still a better choice. There is an urban myth that ingesting higher amounts of vitamin B1 (thiamine) can act prevent bug bites, this is only a myth.
The most worrisome insects for people are the classic stinging insects: wasps, hornets and bees. If you do have one of these bugs flying around you, avoid the temptation to swat them away. Sudden or startling movements can make them more likely to sting. Sit still or gently blow them away. If you do get stung, look to see if the stinger is still on your skin. If so,try and scrape it off with your fingernail, credit card or any hard edged object. Do not try and grab the stinger with tweezers and pull it out. This might squish out more venom.
How you treat any insect sting or bite is essentially the same. First to ensure there is no immediate risk of an anaphylactic reaction. Symptoms of an anaphylactic reaction are usually easy to spot: wheezing, difficulty breathing, swelling in mouth and neck areas, dizziness or fainting. This is a time to find urgent medical care. While we are on the subject of anaphylactic reactions, it is a good to check and ensure your EPI-PEN has not expired. Applying a cold compress or ice pack over the bite and help to treat pain and reduce swelling. Do not apply ice directly to skin and only for 15 minutes at one time.
After the initial pain of the sting is over, there might be some swelling and redness from your body's allergic reaction to the venom. Very mild reactions might respond to topical hydrocortisone or diphenhydramine cream. For a more severe reactions, oral antihistamines might be needed. Ask your Heart Pharmacist for the best option to treat your allergic symptoms. If you were stung on the hand or wrist, consider removing rings, watches or bracelets. Swelling might make them painful and very hard to remove later. Generally the swelling and itching from bug bites will decrease after 3-4 days.
There is a rare chance the insect bites or stings can cause a longer lasting problem. There is the remote probability of West Nile Virus (mosquitoes) and Lyme disease (ticks). I told you I like to worry. The incidence of contracting these diseases in BC is low but not improbable. So watch for any of these symptoms after a bug bite: fever, headache, fatigue, muscle and joint pain, long lasting rashes and sensitivity to light. These are symptoms of concern and should be brought to the attention of a Physician quickly.
Most insect stings and bites are mild and resolve without any treatment. But it is best to know how to treat and avoid this summer health concern. So get out there and enjoy the natural beauty that surrounds Victoria.