Help! How do I get rid of these bugs and bites?
It’s that time of year. Whether it’s mosquitoes, bees, spiders, flies, ants or an unidentified creepy-crawly, it’s hard to make it through the summer without some kind of bug bite. “If you put yourself in the wrong place at the wrong time, I guarantee you will come away with bites,” says Rick Steinau, owner of highly rated Ace Exterminating in Cincinnati. “For example, work in your garden at dusk, and you will come away with mosquito bites. Play with your dog in shaded areas with tall grasses, and you will certainly find fleas and, perhaps, ticks.”
So what’s a person to do (aside from stay indoors year-round)? We spoke with several highly rated pest control companies for ways to prevent bug bites, and dermatologists for treatment options — just in case you do get bit.
What bugs bite the most?
The short answer is, it depends on where you live. If you happen to reside in an area where bed bugs are prevalent, such as Steinau does, that’s oftentimes a person’s first concern. “Inside the home, bed bugs get the lion’s share of the blame for bites, whether they are actually responsible or not,” he says. “In reality, many bites are caused by house spiders. And, let’s not forget about random mosquitoes that sneak in.”
Brandon Poole, owner of highly rated Preventive Pest Control in Bluffdale, Utah, says his customers complain the most about spiders, wasps, bees and hornets. “If someone is always suffering from bug bites, the first step is to have the bites identified,” he says. “Once you know what is causing the bites, then you can take the appropriate steps to keep them from continuing. Without proper identification, you’ll just be playing guessing games until you solve the issue.”
In more arid climates, such as Southern California, bug bites aren’t as common. “I probably only treat patients with bites once or twice a month,” says Dr. Gregory Colman of the highly rated Santa Monica Dermatology Group. “I’d say that mite bites are what we see the most often, followed by spider and flea bites. There is constant construction and remodeling going on around Santa Monica, and this stirs up the mites.”
Can I prevent the bites?
To prevent the bites, you’ll have to get rid of the bug — a task that probably will involve a professional pest control service in order to be the most successful. There are some steps homeowners can take to eliminate bugs without calling in the pros, but exterminators can offer a comprehensive treatment plan for whatever creature is bugging you.
Poole says he uses a number of strategies to control pests when they invade his clients’ property. “The first step is to treat the full interior of the home where we’re focusing on the pest runways and hiding sites,” he says. “Our second step is around the home foundation where we apply a 6-foot barrier using a truck-mounted power sprayer. We also treat eaves and around windows and doors. The third step is a yard treatment that is 15 to 20 feet from the home. This is a granular treatment to help extend the barrier even farther into the yard.” Poole says the two exterior barriers are designed to force the pests to stay away from the home, which equals less chance of bites and nesting in or around the property.
Eradicating bees or hornets can be a dangerous task, and should be left to the experts, says Doug Siegel, owner of highly rated Bug Runner in Spring Valley, New York. “If you use an over-the-counter product, which homeowners will try, you’re not killing the queen,” he says. “If you don’t kill the queen, you won’t kill the nest.” Siegel says he uses a pressurized spray to off the queen bee, and then removes the nest, adding, “I’ve only been stung once.”
How do I treat a bug bite?
An itchy bug bite is annoying. Multiple itchy bug bites can send a person over the edge. And a proper diagnosis can be tricky. “It really can be hard to tell,” says Dr. Jodi Ganz of highly rated Olansky Dermatology Associates in Atlanta. “Many of the marks on the skin will look similar. You know the ‘type’ of insect based on the person’s environment and exposure.”
Nonetheless, the itch must be scratched. “When people have a bite, you’re just treating the symptom of itch,” says Dr. Todd Minars of highly rated Minars Dermatology in Hollywood, Florida. “I find the simplest thing is ice. Nothing seems to help the itch besides ice.”
Of course, individuals often rely on over-the-counter remedies such as cortisone cream and calamine lotion. “Plain hydrocortisone cream is best, and you can cover it with a bandage for extra occlusion to prevent scratching and to allow the medicine to penetrate better, says Dr. Amy Derrow of highly rated The Dermatology Group in Maitland, Florida. “Oral Benadryl is also a great option to alleviate the itching.”
Derrow goes on to explain that you should seek medical attention for a bug bite if the area continues to swell, if the skin turns black, if the pain gets worse, if there’s a visible piece of the bug left in the skin (especially with tick bites), or if the bite is draining pus.
A trip to the ER is warranted if you’re allergic to a bee or wasp sting, says Dr. Colman. “Certain brown recluse spider bites or black widow spider bites may require immediate attention because of the necrotic venom in the bite,” he adds of the venom that can cause tissue damage and even lead to death. “Also, a bite in a vital area (near the eye) should probably be looked at sooner rather than later.”
Why do they bite me, but not him?
Talk about a question that bugs people. It seems there are two camps when it comes to insect bites: folks that always get bitten, and those that never do. “I don’t think anyone has really answered this question satisfactorily to-date,” Colman says. “There has been evidence, that for people who get bit frequently, taking B-complex vitamins orally for several months seems to make them ‘less desirable’ to bugs.”
Derrow says genetics and pheromones play a role as to why mosquitoes are more attracted to certain people, but there’s still a lot that remains a mystery. “Scientists have also found that people who give off more carbon dioxide, lactic acid, or uric acid are ‘sweeter’ and more attractive to mosquitoes,” she says. “People who have higher levels of steroids or cholesterol in their skin will also attract more mosquitoes.”
Another tip: pay attention to what you’re wearing. “Bright colors attract certain insects during the day, but dark colors seem to be more attractive to biters,” Steinau says. “Certain people give off attractant odors when they sweat. Fragrances will often attract insects, so be careful about perfumes, shaving creams and deodorants.”
If you are one of those people who bugs find delicious, your best bet is to apply insect repellent before going outside and wear long-sleeves and pants for additional protection. “Everyone should have some good repellents for when they go into bug country and some cortisone cream for the bites,” says Colman.