Flies. Mosquitoes. Gnats. Fire ants. Many names, many species. But all, you'll notice, share one common nickname--bug! Why? Because they "bug" the living begeebers out of us, especially when they bite.
Although insect bites rarely require medical attention, they are bothersome. (Few people are allergic, but if you are--and you'll know by vomiting, fever and other severe reactions--refer to "When to See the Doctor" on page 00.) Most people get nothing more than some swelling and itching and sometimes ugly welts that are tender to the touch. Since an ounce of prevention is worth its weight in future scratching, here are some tried-and-true ways to squash the pain (even if you can't do the same to the cause of it).
Treat it like a tough steak. Rubbing on a meat tenderizer containing papain can take the ouch out of that bite, suggests Arthur Jacknowitz, Pharm.D. professor and chairman of clinical pharmacy at West Virginia University School of Pharmacy in Morgantown. He says Adolph's or McCormick works fine, but don't try this with highly spiced Ac'cent. "The best way is to make a paste with water and the meat tenderizer and apply it directly on the bite area as soon as possible," explains Dr. Jacknowitz. For severe itching and swelling, apply some calamine lotion.
Try some mud relief. "Do what I did as a kid: Pack mud on the bite," suggests Rodney Basler, M.D. a dermatologist and assistant professor of internal medicine at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha. "I'm not sure why it works, but it works."
Get help from your kitchen. For a variety of household itch and pain reducers, Claude Frazier, M.D. an allergist in Asheville, North Carolina, suggests checking out your kitchen cabinets. You can make a paste by mixing table salt with water and applying it to the bite. Another way: Place ice packs wrapped in towels on the area for 10 minutes. Or dissolve one teaspoon of baking soda in a glass of water, dip a cloth into the solution, and place it on the bite for 20 minutes.
Clean the bite thoroughly. Of course, flies and mosquitoes can spread disease. So to prevent further infection, wash the bite thoroughly with soap and water and apply an antiseptic, advises Dr. Frazier.
Apply the real McCoy. Yes, you can also apply bona fide insect repellent to repel insects. According to Philip Koehler, Ph.D. an entomologist at the U.S. Department of Agriculture Laboratory at the University of Florida in Gainesville, the best known and most effective repellent is DEET (diethyltoluamide). Products containing DEET have a number of different trade names. Be sure to read the label: You should use DEET sparingly on exposed skin, and keep it away from your eyes.
Start relying on thiamine. People who have diets high in thiamine (vitamin B1) report fewer insect bites than others. "That's because the vitamin gives off an odor when you perspire that is unattractive to insects but undetectable to humans," says John Yunginger, M.D. professor and pediatrics consultant at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. Good sources of thiamine include whole grains, organ meats and brewer's yeast.
Don't hold the onion. Consuming a lot of onions or garlic is a nutritious way to help keep bugs away. "Eat a couple of raw onions daily during the summer, or use a lot of garlic in your cooking, and mosquitoes and other insects will usually avoid you," says Jerome Z. Litt, M.D. assistant clinical professor of dermatology at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine in Cleveland. That's because, like thiamine, both these heart-healthy foods give off an unpleasant odor to insects when you perspire.
Lotion 'em away. Another effective insect repellent is skin lotion. Avon's Skin-So-Soft is recommended for keeping off gnats and mosquitoes, according to Dr. Koehler. "People report good luck at keeping insects away when they apply it to their skin before going outside." Others claim similar success with Alpha Keri lotion.
Dress down. Bees aren't the only pests attracted to brightly colored clothing and perfumes. Dressing in more subdued colors--khaki or white in particular--and not wearing fragrances can help keep bugs away, adds Dr. Koehler.
VapoRub 'em. Applying strong-smelling Vicks VapoRub to your skin is another way to keep pests away, suggests Herbert Luscombe, M.D. professor emeritus of dermatology at Jefferson Medical College of Thomas Jefferson University and senior attending dermatologist at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital, both in Philadelphia.
Here are the only answers I can find.