By Dr. Victor S. Sierpina
It is that time of year when mosquitoes are so abundant that you breathe them into your nose, have to dash back inside as soon as you get the paper, and must soothe your children from their itchy bites.
When kids or adults scratch, they can break down the skin, opening it to infection so it is important to treat the symptoms quickly and effectively.
Part of living on the coast is the abundance of both fresh water and saltwater mosquitoes that invade us from time to time.
Not only are these pests troublesome biters, they can carry serious illness like viruses and parasites, e.g., West Nile virus, yellow fever and malaria.
Though malaria and yellow fever are no longer common on our coast as they once were historically, I am vividly remember a patient from the Santa Fe area. He became paralyzed and nearly died from West Nile virus.
Even after he recovered, he was unable to walk normally due to residual paralysis. I saw his obituary lately. It was an untimely death of a good man hastened by a danged mosquito bite.
Preventing bites is therefore the first priority. Wear insect repellent on your clothes and skin (avoid DEET in infants), avoid strong fragrances, take B vitamins, which mosquitoes apparently don’t like, wear long sleeves and pants, hats, light colors, and avoid being outside at the dusk or dawn periods of the day. These will all help.
Essential oils like citronella or oil of lemon eucalyptus deter mosquitoes naturally.
Also, get rid of any standing water in your yard or around your home. It is time to ditch those old tires out there!
Turn flowerpots and other containers upside down. Unclog gutters and change the bird bath water weekly. Several useful commercial products are available to spray with the garden hose on the plants and perimeters.
A little research in my library and on the Internet turned up a surprising number of remedies for mosquito bites.
We all know, no matter how we try to prevent them, skeeters are uncannily able to find any open area of skin in a New York minute.
Many of these treatments might remind you of grandma’s or mom’s home remedies. You likely have some additional ones of your own.
From the pharmacy: antihistamines like Benadryl, Claritin, Zyrtec, which may be sedating, are especially good for those with really sensitive skin allergies.
Topicals that are helpful are Benadryl gel, hydrocortisone cream, Calamine or Caladryl, witch hazel, Vick’s Vapo Rub and my childhood favorite, still available, Bactine.
From the home or kitchen: apply externally: cider vinegar, honey, a moist tea bag, a paste of baking soda or table salt, a lemon wedge, rub with the inside of a banana peel, an equal mixture of milk and water on a pad, a mashed moistened aspirin or TUMS tablet, peppermint tooth paste, ammonia, a slice of raw potato, some onion juice.
Herbs and essential oils: lavender oil mixed with tea tree oil, crushed basil leaves or plantain leaf.
Physical measures: slap or pinch the area, press your nail into the bite in the form of an x and squeeze to get out the venom, apply ice, or run cold or hot water over bites, take a hot bath, dunk in seawater if near the beach, apply a mud pack.
Well, there you go, about everything you need to treat a mosquito bite. Many of the home or kitchen remedies are particularly nice for children as they are gentle, safe, cheap, and pretty much always available.
Avoid getting bit if you can but learn a few country doctor tricks when you inevitably have to deal with those pesky, itchy, biting critters.
Dr. Sierpina is the WD and Laura Nell Nicholson Family Professor of Integrative Medicine at the University of Texas Medical Branch and Professor of Family Medicine.