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Healthy Skin > Health Features > Summer Skin Hazards > Bug off, bug bites!
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Summer Skin Hazards

Bug off, bug bites!

Bug off, bug bites!

The world swarms with all different sorts of flying, hopping, and biting insects. For all of the variety of insect types, though, most bites result in the same symptoms: a red, itchy bump. From time to time, a bump swells and gets sore. If a person is allergic to an insect's bite, the symptoms may be more severe and bothersome. If infection results, medical attention is recommended. Otherwise, clean bites and apply an ointment if necessary. Should you be unlucky and get a cluster of bites, consider taking an oral antihistamine to minimize all-over itchiness.

Some bug bites need special care:

Black fly: Watch out around rivers, streams, and other bodies of water because the bite of a black fly, or gnat, can be painful and intensely itchy, causing swelling and soreness. Wash bites with soap and water. Follow up with antiseptic and an anti-itch cream. Very rarely, a person may have an allergic reaction to a black fly bite. If you feel sick or short of breath after a bite, seek immediate medical attention.

Chiggers: Chiggers are teeny-tiny, immature mites that hide in tall grasses and weeds just waiting to strike. They're young and weak, so they seek spots that give them some leverage so they can attach themselves to your skin, such as the waistband of your shorts or under the elastic that holds your socks up. And when tiny chiggers bite, the itch can feel enormous.

You may not know you've been bitten for a few hours, but then watch out! Pimple-like red bumps appear and it takes a will of iron to keep from scratching your skin raw. To help fight the itch, try a corticosteroid cream if the affected area is small. If the affected area is larger, an antihistamine may be more helpful, but may also make you sleepy. Chiggers' grip on your skin is weak, so a shower or towelling-off will shake off any you might bring home with you. Chiggers are a nuisance, but they luckily do not carry any diseases that are harmful to humans.

Mosquito: Mosquitoes buzz around in warm areas and near standing water. Potential carriers of diseases, mosquitoes bite and leave behind soft, pale bumps that last anywhere from 2 to 10 days and itch like crazy. Avoid infection by keeping scratching to a minimum. Apply pramoxine or a hydrocortisone cream or take an antihistamine to help minimize itch. An ice pack can reduce swelling. Signs that you need to seek prompt medical attention include fever, body aches, and nausea.

Tick: It's dangerous to wander into tick territory (tall grasses) because tick bites can be real trouble. The tiny bloodsuckers are capable of carrying and passing on many diseases, most notably Lyme disease. Remove the tick as soon as possible. Use tweezers to pull the tick directly out from the skin. If the head stays burrowed beneath your skin, remove it, too, since it can lead to inflammation. Wash your hands and the area of the bite. If you cannot remove the tick, seek medical attention.

Contact your doctor if you develop any potential signs of Lyme disease, such as fever, flu-like symptoms, joint pain, muscle aches, rash, stiffness, or swelling. It may also be helpful if you can bring the tick (in a jar) to your appointment.

Of course, the best way to avoid all of this itching and irritation is to keep from getting bit in the first place. Before you head outdoors, stop and ask yourself, "How biteable am I?"

  • Have I applied and packed extra insect repellent? Depending on what type of terrain you will be in, you might need a special repellent. What turns off a tick may be different than what makes a chigger change its mind.
  • What am I wearing? Insects tend to turn away from light-coloured clothes, and loose-fitting garments tucked into clothing and shoes will keep burrowing bugs out. Keep your head covered, which will protect you from the sun as well as nipping pests.
  • Where will I be walking? Throughout your trek, stay in the middle of hiking paths and away from grassy, marshy areas where bugs tend to congregate and lie in wait.
  • When am I heading out? Different insects come out in droves at different times of the day. Know your surroundings and peak times for pests in the area.

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