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Rashes, Bites and Ticks—When to Seek Medical Care

by UPMC Susquehanna

The warm weather means we can spend more time outdoors, but even the most seasoned hikers, hunters, and gardeners can unwittingly stumble into biting insects or brush against poisonous plants that put a damper on summer fun. 

To avoid these unfriendly meetings, take a few preventive steps:

  • Before heading outdoors, study pictures of poisonous plants so you can identify and avoid them.
  • Wear gloves, long sleeves, and pants when doing yard work or gardening.
  • Avoid becoming host to a tick by wearing a hat, long sleeves, and long pants fitted tightly at the ankles when in grassy and wooded areas.
  • Use insect repellent and candles which can discourage mosquitoes from biting.

Fortunately, encounters with mosquitoes, ticks, poison ivy, and other outdoor nuisances typically result in annoying but short-term itchy rashes or welts. But with the possibility of pest-borne illnesses, infections or severe allergic reactions, there are times when the call of the outdoors should be answered with medical care. Here are a few guidelines:

  • Seek emergency medical care immediately if you are having difficulty breathing or experience swelling in your lips or tongue. These symptoms signal a severe allergy that must be treated right away. The same goes for rashes that cover the entire body.
  • Rashes or bites on your face should be seen by a primary care provider who can help you prevent spread or damage to your eyes.
  • If an insect bite coincides with a high fever, chills, and severe headache, call your primary care provider.
  • Blisters, bites, and other openings should be treated with an antibiotic cream to prevent infection. If the skin takes on a red, beefy color, feels warm, swollen, or has a colorful, odorous discharge, it should be seen by your primary caregiver because those are signs of an infection.
  • If you find a tick that has begun to imbed in your skin, you should contact your primary care provider, who can not only assist with its safe removal, but also provide appropriate testing and treatment for Lyme disease.
  • For rashes, general itchiness and swelling, you can try over-the-counter antihistamines. Topical cortisone creams can also provide relief. If, after several days, your symptoms are the same or worse, you should see your primary caregiver.
  • If you are seeking medical treatment, do NOT pop or pick at anything (your primary care provider will want to see what is draining from your wound).

Make the most of these summer months with just a few precautions and an eye toward possible problems. Whenever there is a doubt or concern about the appearance of a rash, bite, or sting, don’t hesitate to call your primary care provider for specific advice.