Growing up in the middle of nowhere, I consider myself a lover of the outdoors. I enjoyed canoeing, fishing, hiking, and exploring Mother Nature. With the economy on a downturn, people are going from pricey gym memberships to exercising at parks, hiking and maybe planking on the nearest boulder. Because of this, the most common summer question asked by my patients is how they can stop the itching that is driving them crazy.
Let’s take a step back. How can you prevent the itching in the first place? Here’s the trifecta; the most common things you may run into if you are exercising outside and how to avoid the irritants.
The best way to avoid poison ivy is to be able to recognize it. It can grow on vines, bushes or be a plant on the ground, and usually has a 3-leaf structure. The oil that causes that itchy, allergic reaction is called urushiol and if you come into contact with it, first thing’s first: wash everything. Rinse your body, clothes, and anything else the urushiol may have touched.
Calamine lotion is a pink liquid that is usually that gold standard for relieving the symptoms of poison ivy. It has a skin protectant and pain reliever that helps to dry up any oozing blisters from the poison ivy. Hydrocortisone cream and antihistamines like Benadryl are other options to help with itching.
The best bug bite offense is a good defense, so don’t forget your bug repellant! Mosquitoes can carry West Nile Virus and Malaria which can be deadly. DEET is one of the main ingredients in bug spray and it helps repel both mosquito and ticks. Look for a DEET level of 20-30%, which is most effective in repelling mosquitoes who may have West Nile Virus. Layering clothes and using insect netting are other ways to avoid being a mosquito’s meal. Avoid peak times for mosquitos like early morning or late night when humidity may be higher. Ice packs, hydrocortisone, and Benadryl are some options for pain and itch relief if you do happen to get bitten.
The biggest worry with tick bites is dangerous disease, like Rocky Spotted Fever and lyme disease.
I can tell you from personal experience that the number of people who do not catch the warning signs and receive treatment is growing. I literally have an entire family in my care. Lyme disease sometimes begins with a bullseye-like rash after a tick bite. The next warning sign is usually flu-like symptoms. Lyme disease can be cured with antibiotics if it’s caught quickly, but if not, over time it can affect the joints, skin and muscles.
Wearing light-colored clothing will help you to spot a tick on your body. If you find a tick bite, removal of the entire tick is essential. Ticks bury their heads under your skin, which can be hard to get. If you feel you did not completely remove it or have any of the symptoms, talk to your doctor.
I don’t want this to scare you into to staying indoors parked on the couch. We all need to get moving and enjoy all the beauty Mother Nature has to offer. But like any good boy or girl scout, it’s important to be prepared. Don’t forget your sunscreen and drink plenty of water! Now get out there and breathe that fresh air!
August 5th, 2011