De-Bugging your Spring
Ah, spring! The flowers are blooming, the birds are chirping, and the bugs start biting! Before the welts started swelling, I called contributing editor Andrew L. Rubman, ND, for his advice on bug bite prevention and treatment. Good insect bite prevention begins from the inside out, says Dr. Rubman. Make sure to take your B-vitamins consistently, he advises. Most insects are repelled by the presence of vitamin B-1 in human sweat. Effective vitamin therapy varies according to age and general health, but a multiple vitamin B suppement twice a day should be adequate as follows (adjust the dose down by age and weight for children)...
*For most adults and teenagers: a B-50 multivitamin that contains 50 mg of B-6 and other B vitamins
*For children ages seven to 12: a B-25 multivitamin that contains 25 mg of B-6 and other B vitamins.
*Talk to you doctor about doses for children under the age of six.
To make sure you are taking enough vitamin B to repel insects, check your urine, says Dr. Rubman. You'll know you are taking enough to keep bugs away if your urine turns yellow. While it is unusual to overdose on B-vitamins, check with your medical provider if you have any significant chronic diseases or are taking other medications. If you like gadgets, Dr. Rubman told me about an interesting one. The FC-50 electronic flea and tick repeller, manufactured by Innotek, repels insects within a few meters via ultrasound. Although it is designed to be clipped to a dog's collar, soldiers in Iraq have successfully used the FC-50 to repel sand flies. In addition, Innotek has received anecdotal reports that the FC-50 has been effective in repelling ticks as well -- a good thing to keep in mind if you live in areas where deer ticks create concerns about Lyme disease. The FC-50 is the size of a cigarette lighter, can be clipped to clothing and runs on a watch battery. (www.innotek.net or 800-826-5527. Cost: $25.) DEET is an extremely effective deer tick repellent and can be purchased just about anywhere. Dr. Rubman admits that DEET is synthetic and a poison, but it is absorbed quickly into the body and completely eliminated through the urine without harm to most and can be used safely by people in general good health. If you do get a bite, Dr. Rubman suggests:
*After Bite, available in most health-food stores. It is extremely effective in soothing the intense itching caused by mosquito bites. Itch control is vitally important, says Dr. Rubman, because scratching open wounds can create potentially problematic secondary infections. Just be sure to store After Bite in a safe place away from kids, because its main ingredient is lye (sodium hydroxide). Dr. Rubman says there is no danger if After Bite is applied properly. If applying to children, watch them for five minutes or so to be sure they don't touch their eyes or ingest it. By that time the solution should be absorbed.
Alternatively, Dr. Rubman recommends a combination one-two punch with the following herbs:
*Goldenseal, an antimicrobial herb, helps control secondary infection and purifies tissue. Apply topically to the bite. Make a paste of the root powder and cover with a hot, moist compress.
*Comfrey, another herb, helps to remove the puffy, stiff swelling of a bite. Apply topically using the same technique as with goldenseal.
For maximum effectiveness, apply goldenseal first, then comfrey. If inconvenient, the two may be combined into a single paste.
*Aloe vera has long been a staple in bug-bite treatment. But don't buy your aloe vera in the health-food store or supermarket. Dr. Rubman says use only fresh aloe vera directly from the plant, since much of aloe vera's power is lost one hour after it is extracted from the leaf. You can buy aloe vera plants at your local nursery. Break off a leaf and squeeze out the gel onto the bite.
*For relieving the itch and pain of multiple bites over a broad area of the body, use witch hazel. Or, take a bar of Aveeno (oatmeal) soap, put it in your hand with a little water and make a stiff foam, then "paint" this over the bite area. It will dry to a dust. Aveeno draws out the poisons and toxins from the skin. Or, take a warm bath in two cups of Aveeno oatmeal bath powder and two cups of Epsom salts. (Note: Dr. Rubman says Aveeno is great for poison ivy as well.) Emergency care required: Dr. Rubman warns that if you have had hypersensitive reactions to insect bites in the past and/or if you experience a systemic reaction, such as difficulty breathing, an itchy or scratchy throat, mucous buildup in the back of the nose, or if you feel dizzy or confused, you should get immediate care from a physician or go to the emergency room of the nearest hospital.