We are in that season of active creepy crawlies, biting things and things that sting. All part of the great British summer, as well as in other countries in the Western hemisphere that we are visiting to enjoy the sun and sea or to simply experience something different.
There is such an array of insects that can bite or sting from the wasps to ticks, mosquitos, and everything in between. In fact, just recently I was bitten by an ant. It is incredible what such a tiny insect can do in terms of pain and later a beautiful full-on bruise at the site of the bite and the surrounding area. In this blog it is not going to be possible to cover all types of bites and stings, but rather to provide some general guidance on what you can use to treat any bites and stings should you or your children experience this misfortune.
The skin is the largest organ of the body protecting us against heat, cold and infection. Our skin is continuously shedding its surface and therefore requires regular cleansing and nourishing to remain healthy. This includes not only taking care of the outside of the skin with skin brushing, exfoliation, moisturising and so on, but also by ensuring our whole body is healthy from the inside out.
What bugs are out there?
Scotland has its very own “Clegs” which for the rest of the UK are horseflies. Horseflies do not only limit themselves to horses, despite horses being their preferred meal of choice, but are also partial to humans as well. Scotland also during the summer months is plagued with midges as the Scottish climate provides perfect breeding grounds. However, midges are also common in other parts of the UK and can bring misery to us all. Midge bites don’t cause any infection but can swell up and be incredibly itchy. A normal reaction to a bite or sting usually starts with some localised pain, swelling and redness around the site of the bite or sting. Extended swelling might occur depending on the site of the bite, but it is not usually dangerous.
If you are someone that is allergic to a particular biting or stinging insect, it is likely that you experience an immediate reaction, but it can be up to 4 hours later for the reaction to show. At that point you may begin to experience hives, fever, swelling, joint pain and perhaps feel headachy. If prone to or showing signs of extreme allergic reaction, or have a sting in the mouth causing the throat to start to swell you must seek professional medical attention.
What can you do to protect yourself against bites and stings?
If you know that you are going into an area that is prone to a particular type of insect, it is advisable to wear clothing that covers your arms and legs to limit the amount of skin exposure.
Most insects are repelled by the smell and taste of Citronella. If sitting out at dusk and in the evening, you can burn Citronella incense sticks. Place them at ground level around where you are sitting to stop insects from biting legs and ankles and making your evening miserable.
When spending time outdoors in woods, forests and around lakes and rivers, rub your skin with essential oils of Citronella, Lemon, Lemongrass, Lavender, Sage and or Thyme. Always dilute the essential oil with another oil such as Sweet Almond, Olive or Jojoba oil to avoid any skin reaction due to the concentrated essential oil. It is always advisable to test it on a small patch of skin before rubbing all over. Avoid the eye area.
Walking in long grass during the summer months, could be when you pick up ticks that hang out waiting for an animal to pass through so that they can jump on and then bite into the skin and feed off the animal’s or your blood. Most ticks are harmless, but they can carry Lyme disease and therefore it is always advisable to check your legs, even if wearing long trousers at the end of your walk and remove ticks immediately, then treat the site with an antiseptic cream such as Urtica (Nettle) or Calendula (Marigold) cream. Nettle tea can do exactly the same job and is easy to make with nettles being widely available throughout the UK. Simply add boiled water, steep for 4-6 minutes and make sure it is cool enough before washing over the skin. Nettles are antiallergenic, antiseptic, antihistamine and anti-inflammatory. Calendula is also anti-inflammatory, antiseptic and antimicrobial, both well suited to the job of bringing down inflammation, redness and itching.
Aloe vera gel is also a very effective remedy for applying to swollen irritated skin. Aloe is a well known remedy for any kind of burn including sunburn, radiation burns as well as other burns from cooking etc. It soothes the skin’s surface, cools it down and treats the site of the burn, bite or sting with its antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties. Will also heal any wound that the bite or sting has left.
Effectiveness of sting and bite treatment is increased if taking the herbs internally in the form of a tea. Lavender, Nettle, Chamomile and Calendula all make very pleasant tasting teas, can be mixed and enjoyed hot or cold to relieve itching and bring down any swelling. Lavender is antimicrobial, antiseptic and analgesic soothing any pain that is experienced. Chamomile is similar to Lavender as it is also anti-inflammatory, antihistamine, antiseptic as well as an analgesic. It is also an insect repellent and as an essential oil can be used in the same way as Citronella, Lemon and Lemongrass.
Bicarbonate of soda – as most homes have bicarbonate of soda in the cupboard this can also be used as a remedy for bee and wasp stings. Mix a teaspoon with a little water until it forms a paste and then apply to the sting site. Leave for 15-20 minutes allowing it to dry on the site. It is believed that the bicarbonate neutralises the acidity in the sting thus relieving itching and any inflammation.
Apple cider vinegar works in the same way as Bicarbonate of Soda taking out the acidity from the bite or sting. It is an old traditional remedy especially used for bee or wasp stings but can work for other bites as well. Dip a cotton wool pad into the vinegar and apply to the sting site. Let it dry naturally. For application it can also be put into a spray bottle. Apply to your skin 3-4 times daily.
For the summer, be sure to stock some of these items in your first aid kit and kitchen cabinet if you haven’t already done so. Mix up the essential oil deterrents and apply liberally when going out and taking your children out into nature to ensure they are well protected when enjoying being outside in nature. All natural and without the additional toxic ingredients that can irritate the skin.
Dispensing with Tradition, Annie McKintyre, Michelle Boudin
Encyclopaedia of Herbal Medicine, Andrew Chevallier, FNIMH