How to Avoid Bites, Stings and Poisonous Plants

Pesky insects and poisonous plants do not have to interfere with summertime fun. But, sometimes contact with these summertime skin irritations is unavoidable. Here are a few ways they make their mark and what to do when it happens.

Poisonous Plants:

Rashes caused by poison ivy, oak and sumac are actually contact allergies to the sticky, invisible oil that is released from any crushed part of the plant leaves or stem. Direct contact with the plant is not the only means of
infection. The sap can be transported on a shoe, garden tool or even by a pet.

What may happen: A red, itchy rash may appear.

What to do: Rinse the affected area with water within five minutes of contact to neutralize the sap and keep it from spreading. Soap is not recommended.


The bite of an insect, such as a mosquito, gnat or horsefly, may cause irritation, but it is usually not dangerous.

What may happen: A small, painless swelling or an intense itching rash may form at the site of the bite.

What to do: Wash the bite well and apply cold compresses and soothing lotion. Avoid scratching the area.


The sting of insects, such as bees, wasps, hornets, yellow jackets and fire ants, not only injects poison... it can hurt!

What may happen: For several hours -- or even days -- the sting site will be very red, swollen, itchy and painful. In rare cases, a more severe, life-threatening reaction occurs when a victim is hypersensitive to the poisonous venom. There may be extreme flushing and swelling of the skin, a drop in blood pressure, swollen throat tissues and obstructed breathing.

What to do: Because it takes a few minutes for the sac to empty its poison, quick action may help prevent harmful effects. If possible, scrape the stinger and venom sac with your fingernail. In common cases, cold compresses and analgesic creams
should be applied for relief. In more serious cases, immediate medical attention is needed. Those aware of their hypersensitivity should carry an emergency kit with the medication necessary to open airways and ease breathing.


Lowell General Hospital, 295 Varnum Avenue, Lowell, Massachusetts 01854, Main Telephone: (978) 937-6000
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