Summer means warmer weather, family vacations and a chance to enjoy the great outdoors.
"Being outdoors also means greater exposure to insect bites and stings," explained Family Practice physician Maria Ryhal, M.D.
"Most bites and stings occur when insects defend themselves in order to protect their hives or nests, or when they are looking for food. A sting or bite injects venom into a person's skin. This venom is composed of proteins and other substances that may trigger an allergic reaction in the victim, or cause redness and swelling at the site of the sting."
Bees, wasps, hornets, yellow jackets, and fire ants are members of the Hymenoptera family. "Bites or stings from these types of insects are typically the most troublesome, and may cause a serious reaction in people who are allergic to them," Dr. Ryhal added. "These insects also vary in how they inflict injury. For example, when a bee stings, the entire stinger is lost and the bee dies in the process. However, a wasp can inflict multiple stings because it does not lose its stinger. Fire ants inject their venom by using the biting parts of their jaw and rotating their bodies, and may inject their venom many times."
Mosquitoes typically do not cause significant illnesses, unless they convey "vectors," or microorganisms, such as malaria or West Nile virus, that actually live within the mosquitoes. But, this has been shown to occur in only about 1 percent of mosquito bites. Other types of insects that may bite include ticks, chiggers and mites, fleas, spiders and bed bugs.
General Steps for Most Stings
1. Remove the stinger by scraping the back of a straight-edged object across the stinger, do not use tweezers.
2. Wash the site thoroughly with soap and water.
3. Place ice, wrapped in a washcloth, on the site for 10 minutes and then remove for 10 minutes. Repeat this process if necessary.
4. Itching may be treated with an over-the-counter antihistamine, such as diphenhydramine (Benadryl), or using Calamine lotion.
"Many people have only a mild reaction to a bite or sting, and may experience an itching or stinging sensation and slight swelling that can disappear within a day or so," Dr. Ryhal continued. "In most cases, these types of bites and stings can be treated at home.
"If a bite appears infected, such as skin redness with or without pus, warmth, fever, or a red streak that spreads toward the body, check with your doctor," Dr. Ryhal advised. "Also, if you don't know what bit you, watch the area closely to be sure it does not become infected.
"A person may also experience a delayed reaction from a bite or sting that can cause fever, painful joints, hives or swollen glands. Often, multiple stings can cause more problems than a single sting."
A severe reaction, known as anaphylaxis, can occur if a person is allergic to the bite or sting. Symptoms of a severe reaction include hives, wheezing, shortness of breath, unconsciousness, and even death. A sting on the tongue may also cause throat swelling and death due to airway obstruction.
"Severe reactions can affect the whole body and may occur very quickly, often within minutes," Dr. Ryhal said. "If a severe reaction occurs, emergency medical treatment should be obtained immediately.
"In addition, people, who have a history of severe reactions to bites or stings, may have been prescribed an anaphylaxis kit containing an epinephrine injector. If you have been prescribed this type of a kit, make sure to always have it with you and use it according to your doctor's instructions."
Tips To Prevent Bites
"When outdoors, wear clothing that keeps as much of the skin covered as is practical," Dr. Ryhal suggested. "In addition, try to avoid wearing bright, floral colors and stick with light-colored clothing that has no particular attraction for mosquitoes.
"If you can, avoid outdoor activities during the peak mosquito biting times from dusk to dawn. Exercise boosts the body's temperature and the levels of carbon dioxide and lactic acid, which can act as mosquito magnets. Insects are also attracted to sweet-smelling foods, beverages, perfume, cologne or scented products."
There are plenty of bug repellents that can make the skin unattractive to a hungry mosquito, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends using an insect repellent on exposed areas of skin. The most effective repellants include the compound DEET; however, these products should be used sparingly on children.
"DEET will help protect a person from bites or stings by flies, gnats, chiggers, ticks, and mosquitoes," Dr. Ryhal concluded. "However, DEET doesn't work against yellow jackets, hornets or honeybees.
"When using a repellant, cover the exposed areas of the skin, but be careful to keep the repellent away from the eyes and mouth, or the portions of the hands that may touch the eyes or mouth. Also, don't apply DEET under clothes, or too much of this toxic substance may be absorbed."
Maria Ryhal, M.D., is a board certified Family Practice physician affiliated with Salem Community Hospital's medical staff and Family Healthcare of Columbiana County. Her offices are located at 166 Vine Avenue in Salem, 330-337-3500, and 356 East Lincoln Way in Lisbon, 330-424-1404.