Little bites, big pains

Insect bites are an important threat for allergy sufferers in the outdoors. Protect yourself from bugs and bites and the allergic reactions they may cause:

  • Stay away from standing water (i.e., water that is not moving), e.g., swamps and birdbaths.
  • Avoid wearing dark-coloured clothing.
  • Avoid wearing perfume.
  • Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants.
  • Use an insect repellant approved by Health Canada.

When choosing an insect repellent, choose a product that is best suited to you, has a Pest Control Product (PCP) registration number, and is labeled as an insect repellent for human use. Most insect repellents provide prevention against bites from black flies, mosquitoes, and ticks, but don't ward off stinging insects such as hornets, bees, or wasps.

There are several insect repellents available in Canada, but products containing DEET are the best-known. A lotion or spray containing 20-30% DEET is effective for adults. Children aged 6 months and older may use DEET, but it is important to use the correct concentration and to follow the instructions and safety precautions on the label. Do not apply DEET over sunburns, as it may cause a rash; do not apply it on cuts, and do not spray it near the eyes or mouth. Also, DEET lotion or spray may reduce the effectiveness of the sun protection of sunscreen. To avoid this interaction, do not use products that combine DEET with sunscreen, and when using both sunscreen and DEET, allow the sunscreen to absorb into the skin first before applying DEET.

Once bitten, ask your pharmacist how you can relieve the itch.

If a bee, hornet, or wasp stings you, remove the stinger with a fingernail if it's still there – often the insect removes the stinger. It is estimated that less than 1% to 2% of Canadians have serious allergies to insects like bees, hornets, and wasps. However, allergic reactions to stings are potentially life-threatening emergencies that require immediate medical attention. People with an identified serious allergy should wear a MedicAlert® bracelet and carry an epinephrine autoinjector (e.g., EpiPen®), which is an injection device that helps relieve the symptoms of a serious allergic reaction (e.g., difficulty breathing, low blood pressure, swelling).

Ticks, known to carry the bacteria that causes Lyme disease, are another consideration if you spend a lot of time outdoors. Of the three kinds of ticks capable of transmitting Lyme disease, two may be found in Canada. The black-legged tick, also known as the deer tick, can be found around Lake Erie in southern Ontario. The western black-legged tick can be found on Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands and around the Fraser Delta in British Columbia.

Some signs and symptoms of Lyme disease can take months to appear. The first and most common symptom is a migrating rash in a bull's-eye pattern that starts to appear a few days to one month after a tick bite. The best prevention, other than protective clothing tucked in tightly and wearing DEET repellent, is carefully checking exposed areas of your skin on a regular basis. Ask your doctor or pharmacist how to best remove ticks, and whether you need to take medications.

All material copyright MediResource Inc. 1996 – 2022. Terms and conditions of use. The contents herein are for informational purposes only. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Source: