Severe reaction to insect bites is a feature that is experienced by many lupus patients. Lupus patients are susceptible to insect bites and tend to have severe and prolonged reactions.
What is it that causes a reaction when an insect bites you? When an insect bites, it releases saliva. It is the saliva that can cause the skin around the bite to become red, swollen and itchy. It can be painful and itchy for a few days, but is harmless in most cases. The severity of the bite can depend on the type of insect and the sensitivity of the person.
There are a few different types of insects that bite in the UK. You can find details of these insects and what kind of reactions they can cause at - nhs.uk/Conditions/Bites-ins...
How to treat most bites:
•Wash the affected area with soap and water
•Try not to scratch the affected area to avoid infection
•If in pain or the area is swollen, try painkillers such as ibuprofen or paracetamol
•Place a cold compress over the area to reduce the swelling
•If you have a more serious reaction consult your GP
Sometimes insect bites can become infected. Symptoms may include:
•Pus in or around the bite
•Increasing redness, swelling and pain in and around the bite
•Some bites will naturally be red and swollen, but for other types of bites these symptoms may not be normal and could indicate infection.
If you think you have a bite that has become infected, you should make an appointment with your GP or call NHS Direct on 0845 46 47.
How to prevent bites:
•Cover exposed skin – insects tend to be particularly active around sunrise and sunset, ensure you cover your skin at these times by wearing long sleeves and trousers.
•Apply insect repellent – This should particularly be applied in summer or early autumn, and should be applied to areas of exposed skin. Repellents that contain diethyltoluamide (DEET) are considered most effective
•Avoid areas near water, such as ponds and swamps – mosquitos and horseflies are commonly found near water.
We asked you to share your tips and experiences for coping with insect bites. Some of the products and techniques you recommended for preventing bites were:
-“Having been around horses most of my life and living in the Scottish Highlands, I live with bugs. The Scottish midgie is the one biting bug we can’t seem to get away from. I used to spray the horses and myself with Avon’s Skin So Soft. It’s the only stuff that seems to keep the bugs at bay.”
-“I too agree about Avon range of Skin So Soft products to protect against insect bites. My daughter uses them for my grand-daughter too! The perfume may be a little too girly for the chaps though.”
-“ I used [Skin So Soft] last time I went to Scotland and I think I had a reaction to it. My face felt all prickly and I came up in a red rash. It’s hard to know whether that was a reaction or just a lupus rash. I’m not sure what’s worse, the rash or the midge bites?”
-“The essential oil ‘Citronella’ helps to stop getting bitten, as midges do not like the smell.”
-“…try drinking tonic water to stop mosquito bites – it works for some. I understand it is the quinine in the tonic that helps.”
-“I don’t go anywhere without first covering myself in Boots Once-a-Day Insect Repellent. Having had two bites in the last two years, both of which ended up turning into cellulitis and required IV antibiotics. So far this year my plan has worked and I haven’t been bitten once.”
-“My solution….don’t get bitten…the best thing to repel the little biters…MARMITE!!! If like me, you can’t stand the stuff, you can take a full vitamin B complex which keeps them away completely. I haven’t been bitten for a few years now, where I used to get eaten alive.”
-“Citrus candles burned whilst outdoors at night keep them away I think.”
-“We have just got back after living for 6 ½ years in Catalunya in North Eastern Spain. The river Ebro is the main river that flows down to the sea through the mountains and for a number of years now they have had a MASSIVE problem with an innocuous looking midge called Mosca Negra “black fly” that lays its eggs in the Ebro, but has migrated to the countryside either side of the river…the farmers there swear by a lotion called Natural Honey and they don’t get bitten. They slather it on before they go out in the morning and reapply after lunch. After applying it, the only reason I got bitten was because I missed a patch fr skin, or had been sweating and the lotion had worn off. I have been told it’s effective because of something called Hydrogen 5, which is in a lot of the lotions.”
-“I have recently invested in a mosquito net. It’s bliss to be able to sprawl out on top of my bed without being bitten, especially when my temperature is flaring.”
We also received a few recommendations for coping if you do get bitten:
-“My pharmacist told me to take antihistamines and use hydrocortisone cream. It took a couple of days for the itching to stop, but it did work.”
-"If I do get bitten I use Calamine Lotion to ease the soreness. This year I have also used a short course of over-the-counter anti-histamine tablets to stop the itching (my rheumatology nurse gave me the OK)”
- “[My dermatologist] advised me to apply Dermovate Cream to any bite I get from the outset. I have Dermovate on repeat prescription anyway for lichen sclerosus. She actually told me that many of her dermy colleagues take Dermovate on their hols for bug bites. Of course, it is best to always check with your doctors before using any medicine for something other than what it was prescribed for.”
-“My insect bites used to turn into massive boil like blisters and my GP advised anti-histamines that contain ‘Cetirizine’. I now take them all summer to prevent any reactions and have found they really make a difference. If I do get bitten it isn’t as bad now and I use Eurax Cream which really helps with the itching.”
-“When I get bitten I apply Sudocrem or Teatree.”
***Please note that this article is written for informational purposes only and should not be a substitute for professional medical advice or treatment. Do not delay seeking or disregard medical advice based on information here. Always seek the advice of your local family physician or other qualified health professional before starting any new treatment or making any changes to existing treatment. It is also advisable to consult a medical professional before making any changes to diet or starting alternative remedies, which may interact with other medications.***
Thank you so much to everybody who submitted their tips and experiences for the article this month. We apologise if we were unable to use your submission.
If you try any of these tips or products, please let us know how you get on. Did you find it helpful? Is there something else that you’ve tried which we haven’t included? Let us know.