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Taking the Bite (and Sting) Out of Summer

POSTED BY: Florida Hospital

Ah, summer. It’s the season of beach trips, nature trails and backyard barbecues. Unfortunately, it’s also the season of bites and stings. Below, Sara Kirby, MD, a pediatric emergency medicine physician at Florida Hospital, explains what you can do to take the bite  (and sting) out of Mother Nature.

Mosquitos

They're one of the biggest nuisances in Florida! Now with all the news about the Zika virus, there's even more reason for prevention. 

Prevention: Don’t make yourself their next meal – stay inside at dawn and dusk when mosquitoes are active. If you go outside, wear long sleeves and pants to shield your skin. That might sound unrealistic given the Florida heat, so use insect repellent with DEET if you go for less clothing coverage. However, DEET products should not be used on children under 2 months of age, or around children’s eyes or mouths. 

What to do if you are bitten: Apply over-the-counter, anti-itch remedy such as calamine lotion to bites.

What not to do: As hard as it sounds, don’t scratch – you’ll just make the bite site red, itchy and you could trigger a skin infection.

Jellyfish Stings

Beaches seem like an obvious destination to escape the rising Florida heat, but a jellyfish sting is a surefire way to bring your day of fun in the sun to a halt.

Prevention: If a purple flag is flying at a lifeguard station that means dangerous marine life are in the water. If you see the flag, ask before going into the water. Also, jellyfish often wash up on shore so make sure you don’t touch them and keep inquisitive kids away as they’re more prone to be stung on shore.

What to do: Dr. Kirby states if you’re stung, wash the area well with seawater and remove any remaining tentacles (with gloves, if possible). If you can, use a vinegar solution on the area for about 30 minutes and then rinse. It will inactivate any stinging tentacles that remain on your skin. Most lifeguards have this solution at their station. If there’s a lot of swelling or increasing redness, then seek medical attention.

What not to do: Despite what you’ve seen on TV or in movies, don’t urinate on the sting – it’s a myth that it will help, and may in fact increase your pain.

Stingrays

Summer is stingray season and that means it’s time to shuffle.

Prevention: Slow down and shuffle your feet as you enter the water. It’s the best way to alert stingrays, who often bury themselves under the sand in water as shallow as 10 or 12 inches. Shuffling sends out vibrations and helps scare them away. If you accidentally step on or kick one, the venomous barbs in their whip-like tails are painful.

What to do: The best remedy is to soak the affected area in a bucket of water for about an hour – the hotter, the better. The heat helps relieve the pain. Many lifeguard stations and snack shops have buckets and hot water available.

While it’s rare, if the stingray leaves any part of the barb behind, head to the ER. Don’t attempt to remove it yourself. You should seek immediate medical attention if you experience any type of severe reaction afterward, such as a rash with vomiting or trouble breathing.

Snake Bites

Most snakes are harmless in Florida, but a few venomous ones hide in tall grass or weeds, so be sure to exercise caution in swampy areas of rivers and lakes.

Prevention: If you see a snake, stay away. Don’t try to catch it or even kill it. That’s when most people are bitten. And stay away from tall grasses and piles of leaves. Snakes are most active during the night and early morning.

What to do: If you can do so safely, take a picture of the snake. Some swelling is expected with all bites, so if you’re bitten on the hand, take off watches, rings or bracelets as soon as you can. Call 911 or go immediately to your closest emergency center for further evaluation.

What not to do: Contrary to popular belief, if someone is bitten, don’t try to suck venom from the bite wound. It won’t keep venom from spreading and it can actually harm the person trying to do it.

Ticks

If you’re an avid hiker, keep an eye out for these blood-sucking nuisances. Most ticks in Florida are benign, but deer ticks can be associated with certain diseases, such as Lyme disease.

Prevention: It’s the best way to avoid ticks – if you’re going to be in a heavily wooded area where they may be found, wear protective clothing (long sleeves and pants), tuck your pants into your socks, and use lotion with DEET. If you find a tick, remove it with tweezers and clean the area well. Remember, most ticks are harmless, but if you experience a spreading rash, fever or joint pain, seek medical attention.

Bees

Bees may be small but they can pack a painful sting. Unless you’re experiencing an allergic reaction, there’s likely no reason to seek professional treatment.

Prevention: While insect repellant won’t keep them away, so avoidance is key.

What to do: If you’re stung, the bee will release the stinger into the skin, which you can remove gently by scraping or pulling it out. Applying ice to the area may help relieve the sting’s pain, and Benadryl may reduce itching. A mixture of baking soda and water can help remove the stinger.

Call 911 or go immediately to an emergency facility if there are signs of a bad allergic reaction, like trouble breathing, a rash over the entire body, swelling or vomiting. If you have had severe allergic reactions to insect bites or stings in the past, consider carrying an EpiPen (epinephrine auto injector), which can be prescribed by your physician.