Treating insect and bug bites

Protecting you and your family from nasty bites and stings while enjoying the outdoors

Spring's warm weather leading into summer makes for many more adventures outdoors and enjoying the warmer weather. However, time spent outdoors can also lead to insect bites and stings causing discomfort for you and your family.

There are many ways you can protect yourself and your family from nasty bites and stings, and treatments if you do suffer from any insect attacks. Below are the most common ways to mitigate insect bites and stings, and what to do if you do get stung or bitten.

Insects such as bees, ants, fleas, flies, mosquitoes, wasps, spiders, and water wildlife like jellyfish may bite or sting if you and your family get too close. Most won’t bother you if you are aware and stay away from them, however it is nearly impossible to not suffer from at least one bite or sting.

An insect bite generally produces a red, itchy bump occasionally with a blister in the middle. In most cases, insect bites will heal and go away on their own however they can cause mild to moderate discomfort. Below is our advice on how best to treat any bites or stings and to ensure a speedy recovery with less chance of infection.

Why am I getting bitten?

Some people are “mosquito magnets”. It is estimated that 20% of people are more delicious to mosquitos than other people. These people attract mosquitos because of their blood type, how they smell to the mosquito, and how much heat or carbon dioxide (CO2) they give off. Research shows people with blood type “O” or “B” are more likely to be bitten. There are chemicals in sweat such as lactic acid, uric acid and ammonia. If you sweat the right amounts of these chemicals, you have an irresistible perfume to mosquitos.

The increase in CO2 from the air you breathe out alerts the mosquito that a host is nearby and they move to that area. They also use thermal reactions to track heat. Larger people emit more CO2 and get bitten more, as do pregnant women, because during pregnancy body metabolism increases and gives off more CO2 and body heat.

Ways to avoid bites

  • use pram nettings to protect babies.
  • wear long-sleeved clothing, socks and shoes.
  • keep moving when outside.
  • wear light-coloured clothing.
  • eliminate habitats – get rid of any standing water e.g. buckets, blocked gutters or drains, plant pots. Change water in bird baths, wading pools often.
  • keep mosquitos out of the house – don’t leave windows, or doors open without screens. Make sure screens have no holes.
  • plant insect repelling plants around decks, BBQ areas, entry points into the house, and indoors (e.g lavender, lemon balm, peppermint, catnip, marigolds, basil, sage, mint).
  • wear clothing that is pre-treated with permethrin for extra protection.
  • Sandflies are more prevalent in summer, especially around water. Sandflies don’t like the wind, so plan your visit to the water on a windy day!
  • Mosquitos are more active before sunset and in the early morning. When you exercise you give off more heat and CO2, so don’t exercise at these times.

Insect repellants

  • repellants work by preventing insects from finding their human host by blocking the insect’s senses (vision, smell, taste) so they can’t find us!
  • are available in different forms (spray, stick, roll-on, cream, gel, wrist bands).
  • can be water-resistant.
  • have some side effects – skin, eye irritation, headache, rash, and itch.
  • need reapplication after sweating, swimming, or contact rubbing.

Long-acting repellants: Contain ingredients such as DEET (diethyltoluamide), picaridin, or oil of lemon eucalyptus (OLE). Check with your pharmacist, as some of these cannot be used on babies or small children. These repellants are very important if travel is to countries with mosquito-borne diseases e.g. Zika, yellow fever, and malaria.

Short-acting repellants containing natural ingredients such as citronella, lavender, rosemary, tea tree oil, eucalyptus, and peppermint are best used if there is no risk of mosquito-borne diseases.

Applying insect repellant

  • apply sunscreen first, allow it to dry, then apply repellant (applying repellant first can decrease sunscreen effectiveness).
  • apply to skin or clothing. Don’t put on the skin under clothing as this increases absorption into the body.
  • don’t apply to wounds, open cuts, sunburnt or irritated skin.
  • keep away from mouth and eyes.
  • wash hands well after applying.

Disclaimer: This article provides general information only. It is not intended as medical or health advice and should not be relied on as a substitute for consultation with a qualified healthcare professional who understands your individual medical needs.

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