When you are dealing with a sting or a bite, common sense is essential. A person who’s had an allergic reaction to a sting may need immediate first-aid treatment with epinephrine (EpiPen) while being rushed to the emergency department. Reactions to a tick bite (generally fever and a rash days or weeks later) also call for prompt medical attention. Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever are serious diseases spread by ticks. Usually, though, the pain or the itch is the main issue, and people have found many ways to cope.
A wasp stung me today on the inside of my thumb. I called NHS Direct for advice. Then I logged on to your website and found a remedy suggesting bicarbonated soda and vinegar for stings. It worked! Ten minutes later, the pain was nearly gone.
American readers may not know that Britain’s National Health Service (NHS) provides advice by telephone, digital TV, and the Web. We are delighted that a paste of baking soda and vinegar worked for you. Many other readers have found this home remedy helpful.
I got bitten by fire ants yesterday, and the bites swelled up and itched like crazy. I applied castor oil right away, and the itching stopped. The bites are just a little bit swollen today, and they don’t itch at all. Castor oil sure works on ant bites!
Castor oil is an old-fashioned remedy that people once used as a laxative. We’ve heard of using it on warts, bruises, and sore joints, but this is the first we’ve heard of using it on ant bites. Other remedies that readers have used successfully on fire ant bites include baking soda and vinegar, toothpaste, and Vicks VapoRub.
Let me add to a recent article describing the benefits of applying a hot water compress to subdue severe itching. I suffer from terrible and prolonged itching from fire ant bites (a common problem when fishing in the South). Several years ago, while suffering dreadfully from the itching of about 30 concentrated fire ant bites, I jumped into the shower, adjusted the water to as hot as I could stand, and, using my handheld pulsating shower head, ran it up and down the affected area on my leg. Amazingly, the itching stopped, and I never had to chance the consequences of infection and scarring that might result from unabated scratching. I believe that this method of relieving severe itching may be even better than the hot compress application. The hot water alleviates the itching, and the pulsating water also safely satisfies the urge to scratch.
Brief exposure (a few seconds) to hot water can ease itching from bug bites or mild poison ivy. The hot water blocks the itch signal from nerve endings for a few hours. Do not use hot water for hives, however, as it could make matters worse.
Let’s talk about two of the hazards of the American Southwest—fire ants and scorpions. These critters give a wallop of a bite or sting without the warning of a buzz. Years ago, when I moved to Texas with a toddler, I was freaked out just at the sight of a scorpion. Poison control in San Marcos, Texas, told me to keep meat tenderizer—the kind with papaya extract in it—on hand for bee, scorpion, and fire ant stings. Add a little water to a scant handful of tenderizer and put the paste on the sting immediately. It works! The poison control people also said we should keep tetanus shots up to date because stinging things, especially fire ants, can spread infection.
The papaya extract (the enzyme papain) in meat tenderizer breaks down proteins—not only in meat, but also in stings. It is a time-honored treatment for bee and wasp stings. Scorpion stings might be too serious for home remedies. If a scorpion stings your child, medical attention would be prudent.
Joe Graedon & Terry Graedon, The People’s Pharmacy: Quick & Handy Home Remedies, published by National Geographic