By Diane Griffith, Staff Writer, myOptumHealth
With all the good times summer has to offer, why let Mother Nature spoil the fun with those pesky insects and poisonous plants? Here's how to avoid the itching and stinging.
The popular saying, "Leaves of three, let them be" refers to poison oak and poison ivy. But this little ditty ignores poison sumac, which has seven leaves and is just as bothersome. Urushiol, an oil from the sap of these plants, causes a rash after contact with the skin.
In spite of the summer heat, cover up to prevent exposure to poisonous plants. Wear long sleeves and long pants if hiking. Try IvyBlock, a cream that helps keep urushiol from getting on your skin.
If you touch a poisonous plant, clean the area with soap and water right away. Alcohol wipes can help remove oils. Wash all clothes and items that may have touched the sap.
If you get a rash, take cool showers and bathe in oatmeal or baking soda. Calamine lotion can help relieve itching. Call your doctor if the rash becomes severe, infected or is near your eyes or genital area. A non-prescription medicine, Zanfel, may help remove urushiol from your skin.
Preventing insect bites
You can't escape mosquito bites and bee stings completely, but you can lower your risks:
Use insect repellents containing DEET. Follow directions carefully, because DEET can be toxic if used improperly. Don't use it on children under 2 months of age.
Sorry to say, insect repellents can't protect against bees, wasps, hornets and yellowjackets.
Empty out puddles of stagnant water near your home. These are breeding grounds for mosquitoes. They also live in your lawn, so keep the grass short.
A small percentage of mosquitoes carry West Nile virus. Most often, West Nile causes flu-like symptoms. But in rare cases, it can cause encephalitis or meningitis.
Mosquitoes can also carry St. Louis encephalitis. At highest risk are the elderly, people living in crowded, low-income areas and those working outdoors in affected areas. Symptoms include high fever, stiff neck and convulsions. If you have any of these symptoms, get medical attention right away.
A bee, wasp, hornet or yellow jacket sting injects a tiny amount of poison into the skin. For some, this can cause a life-threatening allergic reaction. Most reactions are minor, causing red, swollen, itchy skin.
If you see a bee or wasp, stand still or move away slowly. Moving quickly can provoke an attack. Don't crush a bee or wasp. An "alarm pheromone" can be released into the air, causing nearby wasps to attack.
To remove a stinger from your skin, scrape the area gently with a credit card, ruler or butter knife. Removing it with tweezers could release more venom into your body. Wash the wound, elevate the area and apply an ice pack. If you have diabetes, poor circulation or blood vessel disorders, ask your doctor before using an ice pack.
If you have shortness of breath, wheezing, swelling, hives, nausea, vomiting or fever, call 9-1-1. If you have been prescribed an emergency epinephrine kit, use it as instructed and call 9-1-1.
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