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Yours in Health: Keep those bugs from biting this summer

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With summer in full swing, you may be bracing yourself for mosquitos, ticks and flies. If you are a sweet treat for bugs in the summer, here are some tips to avoid pesky rashes and itchy skin.

Histamine is the culprit to blame for allergic reactions with bug bites. When an allergen is injected into the skin and unrecognized by the immune system, histamine is released into the body. The immune system triggers chemical signals to be delivered to mast cells. Mast cells trigger a release of histamine, causing vasodilation—or increase of blood flow—to the part of the body that the allergen is affecting. Inflammation begins and your immune system kicks in and starts to defend itself by causing an irritant. In the case of bug bites, the result is itchy skin.

A great way to prevent bites is to not smell good to bugs. According to a study done in 2000, mosquitoes are attracted to lactic acid, ammonia, carboxylic acid, carbon dioxide and octenol which is found in human sweat and breath.

Thiamine (vitamin B1) is thought to be an effective bug bite prevention, specifically for mosquitoes, though many studies have been inconclusive. The thought behind ingesting high doses of thiamine is that it will cause the skin to produce an odor that is repulsive to mosquitoes. As a water-soluble vitamin, it is safe to ingest thiamine in larger doses. Eating foods such as lean meats, seafood, nuts and eggs will provide a valuable source for vitamin B1.

Lemongrass is found to be as effective as commercial bug repellents. A research study done by “Phytomedicine Journal” found that lemongrass lasted 2-3 hours, comparable to commercial bug repellents. Mixing lemongrass with other essential oils such as citronella, lavender or oil of lemon eucalyptus may give you a greater chance of protection.

This is a great option if you choose to avoid chemicals such as DEET. The Environmental Workers Group suggests that if DEET products are used, it should not exceed more than 30 percent of the chemical. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends 20-50 percent DEET and highly recommends this in areas with a high risk of Lyme disease.

The best way to treat any bug bite is to first wash the area with warm, soapy water. Placing ice packs on the inflamed area can help reduce swelling and relieve the itching. Creating a paste with baking soda and water and placing the mixture on the bites can also relieve discomfort.

Another successful treatment is with essential oils. Tea tree (melaleuca) oil has antimicrobial and antiseptic properties. It is best diluted with coconut oil and applied to the skin to halt itching. Peppermint oil can also severely reduce itching, lessen scratching and speed up the healing process due to its cooling properties.

Other options that I have found to work include citronella deodorant and essential oil bracelets. It is recommended to wear light colors, long pants and shirts to prevent bug bites when you will be outdoors.

Dr. Andrea Wick is a chiropractor and applied kinesiologist. She graduated from Life University in Marietta, Georgia, and now practices at Healing Hands Chiropractic in Big Sky. She has a passion for holistic health care and being active in the outdoors.

Joseph T. O'Connor is the previous Editor-in-Chief for EBS newspaper and Mountain Outlaw magazine.

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