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.
You’ve written about baking soda and vinegar to ease wasp stings. I once used this remedy. Then a friend suggested applying raw yellow onion to a bite as soon as possible. I take about a teaspoon of grated onion, put it on the sting, and bandage it in place. It provides immediate relief, and the swelling soon disappears. I always take a raw onion as part of my first-aid kit on camping trips. If I don’t need it for a sting, I can always use it in a stew.
You aren’t the only one to benefit from raw onion for stings. Another reader posted this story to our website: “I’m a pianist, and I react poorly to wasp stings. I get really worried and freak out when I get stung on the hand. Yesterday I was stung just below the thumb-nail, and within minutes my hand looked like a rubber glove that had been filled with air. I put it under cold water, found my Apis Mell (homeopathic remedy for bites and stings), and also took ibuprofen. Then I looked online for help. At your site (www.peoplespharmacy.com) I saw people had success with onions, so I cut a slice of onion and taped it to my thumb. Within an hour the swelling started to go down. By dinnertime, six hours later, my hand was almost normal. I could bend my thumb, and the swelling was down. The onion works. Last year when I got stung on the wrist, I didn’t know about onion, and my hand was almost useless for over a week.”
I live near a national park and walk my dogs in the woods. There are ticks everywhere. I stop and pull ticks off myself every few minutes, but I hate to just throw them back in the bushes where they will wait for me the next time I go for a walk. Is there an easy way to kill or dispose of them? My dogs have been vaccinated against Lyme disease, but I understand there’s no vaccine for me. I surely don’t want this disease!
Put on insect repellent containing DEET before you leave home. Spray your shoes and socks, and tuck trouser legs into your socks. Carry a roll of Scotch Tape in your pocket. Whenever you spot a tick, use the tape to trap it. Once it is sealed in tape, it can’t escape.
Your column mentioned toothpaste as a cure for bites from fire ants. Several years ago I was stung many times by yellow jackets. Twelve hours later I was still hurting as though it had just happened. My daughter had seen a TV show that mentioned toothpaste for stings. I tried it and was surprised to find that it worked immediately. Since then I have used it on various bug bites and stings, including jellyfish stings, with great results. The program stated that it must be mint toothpaste. Perhaps it is the mint that does the trick.
A number of readers have told us that putting toothpaste on fire ant bites can be very soothing. We have never heard that toothpaste would be helpful against other stings as well. No one seems to know whether it is the mint, the fluoride, or some other ingredient that eases the pain. However, anyone who is allergic to yellow jackets, bees, or wasps should get emergency treatment immediately and not resort to home remedies for stings.
Shortly after I read about using toothpaste for fire ant bites, I was bitten by a fire ant. I started spreading toothpaste over my swollen ankle twice a day. It has been three days, and the inflammation has mostly gone away. I only have a small red area around the center of the bite. Previously I would have been at the doctor’s office and receiving antibiotics by now. Additionally, the toothpaste helped with the itch.
Readers have applied many remedies to fire ant bites. In addition to toothpaste, they report success with tobacco juice, Vicks VapoRub, Listerine, apple cider vinegar, and meat tenderizer mixed into a paste with water.
VINEGAR AND BAKING SODA
I used a combination of apple cider vinegar and baking soda on a wasp sting and felt instant relief. The foaming action should amuse children who have been frightened by the sting.
When you combine vinegar and baking soda, the impressive foam is caused by the release of carbon dioxide. We don’t know why this combination seems to ease the pain of wasp or bee stings, but it is popular. Other treatments include fresh onion juice or a paste made of meat tenderizer and water.
Joe Graedon & Terry Graedon, The People’s Pharmacy: Quick & Handy Home Remedies, published by National Geographic