Bites and Rashes

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Poison Ivy, Oak and Sumac

Poison Ivy, poison oak and poison sumac are found throughout the United States and cause the same type of rash in the majority of the population. The oils in these plants cause a very itchy rash that appears a day or two after contact and, in some cases, blisters for up to two weeks.


Learn to recognize these plants. A common rule of thumb for poison ivy is "Leaves of three, let them be." Otherwise, avoid all plants with three large shiny, green leaves. Wear long pants when walking through areas that may contain poison ivy. If you think there has been contact, wash the exposed areas of skin with soap and a washcloth several times. Do this as soon as possible, because in as little as an hour, the skin will already have started absorbing the poisonous oils.

Home Care

  • Soak the involved area in cool water or massage it with an ice cube for 20 minutes as often as necessary and let it air dry to reduce the itching.
  • If begun early, steroid cream applied to the skin can significantly reduce itching and the formation of large blisters.
  • A non-prescription antihistamine such as Benadryl taken orally also helps reduce itching.
  • The fluid from the sores is not contagious. However, anything that still has the poison ivy plant oil on it can cause the rash for about a week. This includes the shoes, clothes, garden tools, and pet fur. Wash all items off with soap and water.

Seek medical attention if:

  • The face, eyelids, or lips are affected.
  • The itching interferes with sleep.
  • Any large blisters develop or if the rash becomes open and oozes.
  • If signs of infection begin, such as pus or soft yellow scabs.
  • You have other concerns or questions.


Tick Bites

A tick is a small brown insect that attached to the skin and sucks blood for 3–6 days. The bite is usually painless and doesn't itch. Deer ticks can spread Lyme Disease, are tiny and can range from the size of a pinhead to a sesame seed. The wood tick can carry Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, is up to 1/2-inch in size. 


Anyone hiking in tick-infested areas should wear long clothing and tuck the ends of their pants in their socks. Apply insect repellent to shoes and socks. During the hike, check clothing or exposed skin every 2–3 hours. A good tip is to carry a lint roller and roll it over socks and clothing to catch any ticks before they attach. Take a shower when you come back indoors and have another person assist with performing a full-body tick check.

Home Care

  • The simplest and quickest way to remove a tick is to pull it off. Use tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the skin as possible. Try to get a grip on its head. Pull upward steadily until it releases its grip.
  • Do not twist or jerk it suddenly because these movements can break off the tick’s head or mouth parts.
  • Do not squeeze the tweezers to the point of crushing the tick
  • If you don’t have tweezers, pull the tick off using the same technique using your fingers. Tiny deer ticks need to be scraped off with a knife blade or a credit card.
  • If the body is removed but the head is left in the skin, use a sterile needle to remove the head (as you would remove a splinter)
  • Mark your calendar when the tick bite occurred. If any symptoms develop that require a visit to the doctor, remember to mention this date.

Seek medical attention if:

  • The tick or the tick’s head cannot be removed
  • Fever, headache, muscle aches, rash or flu-like symptoms appear within two weeks following the bite
  • A bull’s-eye rash appears around the site of the bite

For more information, visit our page on tick-related illnesses

Insect Stings

Stings by honeybees, bumble bees, wasps, yellow jackets, and fire ants are frightening and cause immediate, painful red bumps. While the pain is usually better in a couple of hours, swelling may increase for 24–48 hours. Multiple stings (more than 10) can cause vomiting, diarrhea, a headache, and fever. These symptoms are caused by a toxic reaction to the large amount of venom in so many stings and not due to an allergic reaction. Allergic reactions cause immediate difficulty breathing and/or swallowing, passing out, hives, or swelling in skin areas other than where the sting occurred.


Help prevent bee stings by taking care in gardens and orchards, closing car windows and not going barefoot. When eating outdoors, wait to put your food out until you are ready to eat. Repack picnic food as soon as you are finished serving. Insect repellents do not protect against these stinging insects.

Home Care

  • First, move to a safe area to avoid additional stings.
  • If needed, remove the stinger as quickly as possible by flicking it out with your finger or scraping it with something available immediately, such as a credit card, stiff piece of paper, or butter knife.
  • Wash the area with soap and water.
  • Apply a cool compress. to reduce pain and swelling. If the injury is on an arm or leg, elevate it.
  • Apply a cream or gel containing hydrocortisone, pramoxine or lidocaine to help ease pain. Calamine lotion or creams containing colloidal oatmeal or baking soda to help soothe itchy skin.
  • A pain reliever, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol, others) or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others), will relieve pain and burning, and an antihistamine (Benadryl) will help with swelling.

Seek medical attention if:

  • The swelling continues to spread after 24 hours.
  • Swelling of the hand or foot spreads past the wrist or ankle.
  • You have other questions or concerns.


Mosquito Bites

More than just a temporary nuisance, avoiding mosquito bites has become important to prevent the spread of mosquito-borne illnesses such as Zika, West Nile virus, eastern equine encephalitis (EEE), and more. In addition, dogs, horses, and sometimes cats can acquire heartworm from mosquito bites.


Mosquito bites can be prevented by wearing insect repellent (one that contains DEET is most effective but alternatives include oil of lemon or eucalyptus, metofluthrin, picaridin), wearing long-sleeved shirts and pants, using mosquito coils and water dunks, emptying standing water, and keeping brush trimmed back around the garden. The American Academy of Pediatrics says products containing up to and including 30 percent DEET can be used on children and that DEET-based repellents can be used on children two months of age and older.

Home Care

  • Use a cool compress to relieve some of the itching or cream with anti-inflammatory properties such as Vicks or creams for muscle aches.
  • Over-the-counter hydrocortisone steroid creams are some of the best anti-itch relievers that constrict the blood vessels and reduce inflammation.
  • If the itching doesn't improve in a couple of days or gets larger, contact a doctor for a possible oral steroid prescription.

For more information, visit our page about the Zika virus.

Spider Bites

Most spider bites only cause minor swelling, redness, pain, and itching. These mild reactions are common and may last from a few hours to a few days. 

Home Care

  • Wash the area with soap and water.
  • Apply a cool compress. to reduce pain and swelling. If the injury is on an arm or leg, elevate it.
  • Apply a cream or gel containing hydrocortisone, pramoxine or lidocaine to help ease pain. Calamine lotion or creams containing colloidal oatmeal or baking soda to help soothe itchy skin.
  • A pain reliever, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol, others) or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others), will relieve pain and burning, and an antihistamine (Benadryl) will help with swelling.

Seek immediate medical attention if you believe you have been stung or bitten by any of the following:

  • Black widow spider
  • Brown recluse spider
  • Scorpion
  • Puss caterpillar (woolly slug)




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