Ouch! How to Keep Summer Discomfort at Bay

Tick-related diseases are soaring. Here’s how to avoid them and other seasonal skin issues.
Adult woman scratches bug bite on arm

It's prime time for swimming, hiking and soaking up the sunshine. But it’s also prime season for tick bites, poison ivy and other skin irritants that can show up without warning.

Whether you're planning an outdoor adventure or staying comfortable at home, here are common insect bites, skin rashes, and fungal infections to watch for this summer.

Tick Bites and Lyme Disease on the Rise

Insect bites can leave you with itchy skin, red bumps, painful rashes or worse.

But ticks are the bugs you should be most wary of this summer. Ticks can be as small as a poppy seed and their bite can spread Lyme disease, an illness caused by borrelia bacteria. Vermont and New York are among the states with the highest Lyme disease infection rates.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, 1,312 cases were reported in Vermont in 2022, up from 911 over a two-year period between 2017 and 2019. Almost 16,800 cases were reported in New York in 2022, rising from 4,345 between 2017 and 2019.

"We see a lot of tick bites in the summer," says Bryan Patraw, NP, an adult geriatric and acute care nurse practitioner at University of Vermont Health Network - Alice Hyde Medical Center.

"With a tick bite, you might see the bullseye type of rash where it's raised and red. But that's not always the case."

Other diseases transmitted through tick bites in the United States are babesiosisanaplasmosis and ehrlichiosis. All are on the rise in the Northeast. However, Lyme disease is the most commonly reported tick-borne disease.

That's why it's essential to do regular tick checks after spending time outside.

Lyme disease symptoms include fatigue, muscle and joint pain, chills and fever, headache and swollen lymph nodes near the bite. Early diagnosis and proper antibiotic treatment can help prevent more severe disease.

“I've had so many cases of Lyme disease, and the tick population here has exploded so much,” notes Patraw. “It's a good idea to get checked if you suspect or know you've had a tick bite or are showing Lyme disease symptoms.”

How to Treat Insect Bites and Stings

Mosquitoes, black flies, gnats and other bugs also come out in full force this time of year. Use an EPA-registered insect repellent or place a fan on your patio or porch to keep them away. You can treat bug bites with over-the-counter anti-itch medication to avoid infections and scarring from scratching.

Stings from wasps, bees, hornets, and yellow jackets can cause pain or a dangerous reaction if you're allergic. Always keep medications and antihistamines on hand if you have insect sting allergies. If you're not allergic, remove the stinger, wash the sting with soap and water, and apply ice to reduce swelling.

If you experience a severe allergic reaction with breathing problems or dizziness within 12 hours of being stung, call 911.

Are Plant-Related Rashes Contagious?

Poison ivy, oak, and sumac contain an oil called urushiol. If you brush up against one of these plants outside or touch a contaminated object, like your shoes, you might get urushiol on your hands and spread it to other parts of your body.

“You won't even know you have the oil on you at first because you can't see it,” says Patraw.

If you have an allergic reaction, you can develop a red, itchy, blistering rash within a few days. Fortunately, the rash is not contagious. The rash will eventually go away on its own. But the itching can make you uncomfortable and disrupt your sleep.

If the rash spreads across your body or causes several blisters, your doctor may prescribe an oral corticosteroid, like prednisone, to reduce swelling. Your doctor might prescribe an oral antibiotic if a bacterial infection develops at the rash site.

How to Treat Plant-Related Rashes at Home

Before you head to the doctor’s office, here’s what you can do to calm the itch.

  • Don’t scratch it.
  • Apply an over-the-counter cortisone cream.
  • Use calamine lotion.
  • Take a cool-water bath with a half-cup of baking soda.
  • Apply a cool, wet compress multiple times daily for 15 to 30 minutes.
  • Take an over-the-counter oral antihistamines like diphenhydramine to help you sleep better. If you don’t want to be sleepy, take the over-the-counter antihistamine loratadine.

Don’t Get Burned

Your skin can burn if you get too much sun without proper protection from 30 SPF sunscreen, shade or sun-protective clothing.

Treat your sunburn as soon as you notice it by heading indoors. Take a cool bath or shower to relieve any pain. Apply a moisturizer with aloe vera while your skin is damp from a bath or shower.

If your skin blisters, keep the area clean and apply petroleum jelly. No matter what, don't pop a blister—it's there to help your skin heal and protect you from infection.

Peeling skin from a sunburn is no cause for alarm as it’s your body’s way of repairing damaged cells. Apply aloe vera or moisturizer to the area until it heals, which takes about a week. Don’t pull off the peeling skin and avoid active exfoliation.

Even if you don't have sunburn, it's important to pay attention to your skin year-round. See your doctor for a skin cancer check if you notice any changes, such as a red bump or a mole that changes shape, size or color.

How to Avoid Heat-Related Skin Issues

Heat, mold and humidity can cause fungal infections and aggravate skin conditions. Here’s how to treat common culprits:

  • Prickly heat: Typically caused by sweat clogging your pores and looks like tiny red bumps on your skin. Cool air and cold compresses should bring quick relief.
  • Acne: It can worsen in the summer from sweat mixing with face oils. Wash your face and use oil-free products.
  • Yeast infection: Can occur on the skin in a wet and humid area of the body. “You can have a yeast infection in your armpits, the groin area, under breasts, behind the knees—really in any fold of skin,” Patraw says.

Sweat, a pH imbalance, a lack of mobility or incontinence are often the culprits of a yeast infection, he says. Yeast infection prevention can include bathing and changing your clothes when you sweat. If you can’t shower, use a washcloth to keep those areas of your body clean.

You can treat a yeast infection at home with an over-the-counter antifungal cream. Patraw says treatment typically takes two weeks and involves applying the cream twice a day.

Don’t Skimp on Skin Health

When it comes to skin issues, Patraw says it’s best to seek treatment sooner than later.

“You can get rid of many of these skin conditions with at-home treatment, over-the-counter medication or a prescription,” Patraw says. “But if you wait for treatment, you won’t be doing yourself any favors.”

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