With temperatures rising, health writer Jennifer Cawley asks the experts for five savvy ways to protect against irritating insect bites – and what to do when you get bitten.
This summer continues to be a busy one for bugs, with the NHS reporting double the usual amount of bite-related calls to its helpline.
Topping the British Pest Control Association’s (BCPA) list of offenders are mosquitoes, wasps, horseflies and hornets. These insects pierce the skin (the horsefly actually cuts the skin), leaving a deposit of venom behind: the reason for the itch.
Luckily, there are tricks to avoiding these nasty nippers…
1. Wear stripes
“Experiments have shown that if an animal has stripes on its body, it’s bitten less often by flies,” says Dr Tim Cockerill, lecturer in natural history at the University of South Wales. But if stripes aren’t your style, opt for light, pale fabrics rather than dark or bright shades. Choose clothing with a tight weave and tapered ankles and wrists to prevent insects from wriggling inside.
2. Go sugar free
According to the BPCA’s technical advisor, Kevin Higgins, “Wasps get giddy on fruit; it makes them slightly inebriated, and this is when they are most likely to sting.” The same applies to all traditional summer treats, such as ice cream and iced lollies, so approach that Cornetto with caution.
3. Reach for the oil
Some essential oils hold their own as insect deterrents according to the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDCP). Blends of ylang ylang, cedarwood and lemon eucalyptus are effective when applied to exposed body parts, while lavender and peppermint oil help soothe bites. “Dab one to five drops of oil on the bite as soon as possible and repeat often,” says essential oils coach Tatyana Tavares. “Dilute with a carrier oil (such as coconut oil) when using on children or sensitive skin.”
4. Put a lid on it
Stagnant water, whether it’s the dog’s drinking bowl or the kids’ paddling pool, is the perfect breeding ground for insects. For that reason, the World Health Organisation urges that all water receptacles close to home are drained of standing water. And if you’re choosing a spot to pitch your tent on holiday, avoid windless lakeside locations, as you may wake to lots of itchy bites.
5. Switch your scents
If you smell like a flower, insects will likely mistake you for one. For this reason, avoid strongly scented perfume; body lotion; deodorant; washing detergent and hair products when out and about. But don’t avoid washing altogether – mosquitoes are attracted to the lactic acid in sweat. Opt for scent-free grooming products – try an after sun with insect repellent – and try to stay cool if you can.
What to do when you get bitten…
It’s impossible to completely avoid insect bites, so if you fall prey to the odd nip, try this advice from LloydsPharmacy pharmacists, Francesca Brenca and Kate Taylor:
- “Cooling the area around an insect bite will help to provide immediate relief. Apply a cool compress using a freezer pack or moist cloth, then elevate the area to reduce the risk of swelling. A paste of baking soda and water can also help ease itchiness.”
- “Watch out for tick bites,” says Kate. “While they aren’t painful, they can sometimes carry infection. Therefore, the tick should be removed using fine-tipped tweezers as soon as possible, and you should contact your GP if you develop any further symptoms, such as a fever.”
- If you’re travelling, Francesca recommends doing your research before you visit a new country.
- Wherever you are, “If a person experiences a more serious allergic reaction, which could be any of the following symptoms: loss of consciousness, swollen face or mouth, difficulty breathing, dizziness, increased heart rate, nausea or vomiting, an ambulance should be called immediately,” adds Francesca.
Heading on holiday soon? Read our 7 easy ways to stay healthy and refreshed on your flight.