Learn what to do if a bite, sting or rash starts itching or becomes painful shortly after working in the yard.

When spring gardening bites back

Image Poison Oak Image Poison Oak Image Poison Oak

Many Americans are starting to make a trip to their favorite garden center, load up on plants, flowers and mulch and then tackling those neglected flower beds. But what happens when a bite, sting or rash starts itching or becomes painful shortly thereafter?

Insect Bites

While many outdoor insects and bugs are beneficial for the yard and the environment, they can pack a wallop to humans. Common ones include mosquitos, deer flies, horse flies, ticks, bees, yellow jackets, wasps, hornets, fire ants, spiders and chiggers.

Try to prevent bites by wearing long sleeves, pants and gloves and putting on insect repellent. If a bite or sting happens, try one of these remedies after removing the insect or stinger:

  • A cool compress or ice wrapped in a towel and pressed on the bite for 10 minutes
  • Press a used tea bag on the bite for several minutes until it stops itching
  • A dot or two of tea tree oil
  • Baking soda paste - Add a few drops of water to some baking soda, mix it into a paste, apply it directly onto bug bites and allow to dry
  • Apple cider vinegar
  • Aloe Vera, especially if you can find it fresh

Poison Ivy, Oak and Sumac

One of the most common ailments from working in the yard comes from poison ivy, oak or sumac. Their resinous sap, called urushiol, causes a rash when it touches the skin in about 50 percent of adults in North America. Protect against these leaves with long-sleeved clothing and be on the lookout – these plants are recognizable with their three-leaf groupings. Remember the phrase: "Leaves of three, let it be."

If contact is made, rinse the skin immediately with water, but avoid soap as it can spread the resin. The tell-tale sign of contact are itchy, red patches usually accompanied by blisters arranged in streaks. These typically appear within a few hours to four days, although it doesn't always break out all at once. Lukewarm baths with products containing aluminum acetate (a type of salt that dries up the blisters) and topical preparations such as calamine lotion or steroid creams are helpful in treating one of these “poison” rashes.

Stinging Nettle Plants

This group of plants – which includes cacti, prickly pear, figs, thistles, tomato, zucchini, squash, cucumber and pumpkin – can cause some to break into hives from simply brushing up against them. The stems, vines and leaves may have spines, thorns or sharp hairs resembling little hypodermic needles. If the spine gets under the skin, it can cause itchy, bumpy eruptions and a tingling sensation that pops up almost immediately, but thankfully leaves quickly.

If it leaves behind a spine, carefully remove it with tweezers. If there’s no spine, wash the skin with cold water and soap and let it air dry.  

If It Seems Severe

If any rash or bite is accompanied by more severe reactions such as difficulty in breathing or swallowing, or you are allergic to insects such as bees, go to the emergency room or call 911 immediately.

If unsure of what’s causing the rash or it gets worse after a few days, and can’t get in to see a primary care physician, try using Sentara MDLIVE. Log on to www.mdlive.com/sentara or call 1-800-335-4836 to get started. A board-certified doctor will consult with you using your computer and a webcam or the telephone. Virtual appointments are often scheduled within minutes of registration and are available 24/7. These visits are convenient and affordable, and even covered by some insurance providers including Optima Health.