COLUMN: Simple precaution avoids bites, sunburn

  • Wednesday, May 28, 2014


Summer is upon us, calling us to enjoy the outdoors. However, bug bites and sunburn can make us pretty miserable unless we take some simple precautions.

The most common biting insects around here are mosquitoes. Once the itchy red “welt” develops, try not to scratch! That can lead to a break in the skin and infection. Keep the areas clean, and use soothing anti-itch cream like calamine or over-the-counter hydrocortisone. If your child has a lot of itchy bites, a soak in the tub with one-half cup of baking soda added to a tub of water can help relieve itching. Chiggers, or “red bugs,” bite, instead of burrowing, into the skin. Smothering them with fingernail polish doesn’t work. Spider bites are often blamed for sores on the skin, but actually are not very common. If someone has an expanding, oozing or scabbed sore, it is more likely to be a “Staph” bacterial infection on the skin. See a doctor, as you may need an oral and/or topical prescription antibiotic.

To avoid bites, apply insect repellant before going out. Products containing DEET 10-30 percent can be used on children and adults. The active ingredient, permethrin, is all natural. Avoid perfume, and wear long sleeves and pants. Insect-repellant clothing also can help.

If planning to be out in the sun, apply sunscreen at least 15 minutes before going out and reapply every 90 minutes or so. If you do get burned, take an anti-inflammatory medicine such as ibuprofen as soon as you realize you’re burned. However, using this medicine for children is not recommended. A baking soda bath can help, as can cool compresses. Soothing gels or lotions also can give temporary relief. Drink plenty of fluids.

True sunscreen allergy is uncommon these days. If it occurs, it is usually due to the additives in sunscreen, especially the fragrance, and not the active ingredients like oxybenzone. If you have had trouble with sunscreen, use one that is “fragrance-free.” Other skin problems mistakenly blamed on sunscreen include sun-sensitivity due to medications. Some blood pressure “fluid pills” and antibiotics like doxycycline are among the many prescribed medicines that can make a person more susceptible to burning or getting a rash in the sun.

Women are prone to getting a sun sensitivity called “polymorphous light eruption,” which is a red itchy rash, more on the arms and legs, within minutes of being in the sun. It can start with a new sunny season even if a person has never had a problem.

There is always a first time for poison ivy! An estimated 85 percent of people who have repeated skin contact with the plant will eventually develop an allergic reaction. Small patches of poison ivy rash can be treated like bug bites, as above. However, more extensive break-outs will need medical attention.

Dr. Elizabeth Sherertz is a board-certified dermatologist with Dermatology Associates of Waccamaw.

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