Summertime Bites


by By Lisa Cannon /

Posted on July 17, 2009 at 9:46 AM

Updated Thursday, Nov 12 at 1:53 PM

About the Author

Lisa Cannon has been a writer and editor for nearly 20 years. She writes about everything from the health benefits of journal writing to the best ways to recycle computer hardware. She lives in beautiful Portland, Ore.

According to the Buddha, "Life is dear to all beings. They have the right to live the same as we do." That means we should have an attitude of loving kindness towards all living creatures--even mosquitoes!

But seriously, unless you're a living incarnation the Buddha, you're probably not willing to "live and let live" where insects are concerned. Especially when it comes to painful, disease-carrying critters like the common 'skeeter. But you might also be unwilling to use chemical pesticides that can be harmful to the environment--or to your family.

The Buzz on Pest Prevention Fortunately there are many natural ways to prevent insects from ruining your outdoor fun. Many people have "tried and true" methods for preventing bites from mosquitoes, biting flies, and ticks, such as rubbing vinegar on the skin, avoiding salt and eating lots of garlic (or is that how you ward off vampires?). But research has shown that these folk remedies generally have little or no effect. If you're venturing deep into mosquito or tick territory, chemical insect repellents are highly recommended. Just be sure to learn how to  .

If you want to avoid or limit the use of chemicals, you can try using lemon eucalyptus oil, which has been shown to repel mosquitoes, according to the  . Citronella, lemongrass, tea tree oil, cedar oil and peppermint are also good for repelling a variety of bugs. Be sure to mix these oils with vegetable, olive or grapeseed oil to dilute them before applying. And keep in mind that they don't last as long as chemical repellents, and should therefore be reapplied often.

One ancient insect-prevention technique is the use of smoke. Native Americans living around the Columbia River used leaves and stems of the common yarrow in a smudge to keep away mosquitoes. The Blackfoot tribe, living along the Saskatchewan River, put fringed sagewort plant on campfire coals to drive away mosquitoes. (It was so effective, in fact, that wild horses would cozy up to the campfire to get away from the biting &hellip so the Native Americans captured livestock at the same time!)

Any kind of smoke can discourage mosquitoes and biting insects, regardless of the source--a citronella candle, a mosquito coil, a campfire or even incense. Of course, smoke is only as effective as the range of its reach. You probably don't want to walk through your long hike with a smudge stick in your hand. Then again, if the bugs are biting, you might!

Probably the simplest technique is to cover your skin with long-sleeved shirts and long pants. If the critters are really crawling, you may want to tuck your pants into your socks--ankles are a common bug-biting target. Wearing a hat will help (especially one with a full brim that shields your neck--it's a good way to keep the sun off too), and if you're sleeping in an infested area, you may want to get a mosquito net for your bed. Just make sure you don't roll against it in the night--it may come untucked, and besides, those pesky bugs can bite you through the netting!

Sting Salves and Bite Balms If you do get chomped on while you're enjoying the great outdoors, there are many ways to alleviate the pain or itch--and ensure that the sting or bite doesn't get infected.

  • Check for an allergic reaction. If you're allergic, a reaction can be very severe, including anaphylaxis, which leads to shortness of breath and tightening of the throat. This is a medical emergency--call 911.
  • Remove the stinger if it's still there. One trick is to scrape the back of a knife or other straight-edged object (like a credit card) across the stinger. Don't use tweezers, since they could squeeze the venom sac and increase the amount of venom released.
  • Clean the bite area with soap and water. And put ice on it to reduce swelling.
  • If necessary, take an antihistamine. Or apply creams or ointments to reduce itching and swelling. Some natural remedies include:
    • Baking soda for bee stings
    • Vinegar or lemon juice for wasp stings
    • Calendula ointment
    • Herbs such as arnica, lemon balm and stinging nettle

If you know you have a serious allergy to an insect, carry an emergency  . Make sure that friends and family members know how to use it, and be sure to wear a medical alert ID.

Respect the Insect The best way to keep from getting bitten is to stay out of the way of insects whenever you can. Avoid the wet, marshy areas mosquitoes love (especially at sunrise or during dusk), steer clear of wasp nests or bee hives, and keep away from areas with lots of weeds and blooming plants, which attract bees and wasps. Stay on paths and avoid underbrush. If you're outside, pour drinks from cans into cups to avoid drinking insects that might have wandered into your can.

These simple steps can help prevent an encounter with bugs in the first place, and like the Buddha, you can avoid causing them harm--while keeping them from harming you!