BHealthy Blog

Ouchie! What to Do About Skin Rashes and Insect Bites

By Rachel Stephens, Pharmacy Resident, Baptist Health Medical Center-North Little Rock

As the days continue to be long and warm this summer, we can enjoy spending more time outdoors at the pool, exploring scenic trails, or out in the yard. But this extra time outside creates more opportunities for exposing ourselves to irritants that cause skin rashes or insect bites and stings. 

Many minor rashes and insect bites or stings can be treated with over-the-counter products. Below are some general recommendations for over-the-counter treatment for common summertime rashes and insect bites. 

Heat Rash 

A heat rash occurs when sweat is trapped under the skin. They typically develop in skin folds where clothing cause friction in areas such as armpits, elbow creases, and groin. Wearing loose fitting clothing and trying to stay cool is the best way to avoid developing a heat rash. Symptoms of a heat rash are small blisters or bumps associated with a prickly feeing and itchiness. 

Heat rashes typically clear on their own, but there are a few over-the-counter products that can be used to help with symptoms. Once the rash develops, calamine lotion and cool compresses can be used to soothe the itchy, irritated skin. Avoid using lotions with petroleum or mineral oil because these can trap moisture in the skin. A topical steroid cream, such as hydrocortisone, can be used for more severe rashes. Talk with your pharmacist or physician before using topical steroids. 

If the rash does not improve or there is increasing pain, swelling, redness, or pus discharge, be sure to see your physician. 

Poison Ivy Rash 

A poison-ivy rash is an allergic reaction to the oily resin found on the plant leaf, stem, and root. The rash will develop where the skin has had direct contact with the oily resin and can quickly spread. Symptoms of a poison-ivy rash include redness, itching, swelling, and blisters. The rash usually develops 12 to 48 hours after contact with the plant and can last as long as two to three weeks. 

After coming in contact with the poison ivy plant, wash with soap and water to remove the oily resin as soon as possible to prevent the allergic reaction or stop the rash from spreading further. After the rash develops, calamine lotion can be used to soothe the itching. Topical steroids can reduce the redness and swelling. Oral antihistamines such as diphenhydramine can help with itching and swelling as well. 

Most poison-ivy rashes can be treated without seeing a physician, but if the rash is widespread, near or affecting the eyes, mouth, or genitals, it is recommend to consult with a physician for treatment. 

Insect Bites and Stings

Insect bites and stings result in a mild reaction or redness, itching, or minor swelling. When treating insect bites or stings, wash the area with soap and water and apply a cold compress. Washing the area helps to prevent infection, and the cold compress will reduce the redness and swelling. Additionally, topical hydrocortisone cream can also reduce the redness and swelling. Calamine lotion can be used to soothe and relieve itching if needed. If bites or stings are associated with a rash, fever, chills, or pus drainage, see a physician.

Many rashes and insect bites or stings resolve over a few days to a week and can be treated with over-the-counter products. Your pharmacist can help make recommendations on the best over-the-counter products based on your symptoms.

Following these tips can help minimize any discomfort and get you back outside to enjoy the sunny weather. So go out and enjoy the summer days!

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