Itchy and Scratchy
A while back Martha contracted a severe case of either poison ivy or poison oak. I say ‘either’ because the rash was so spread out over her legs and arm that we could not distinguish between the two. She had come into contact during a bout of weeding in our yard, but blossomed a few days later while we were on vacation on Cape Cod. Interestingly, her father was completely immune to poison ivy, and was the guy other people in the neighborhood would call to pull the plants out of their yards. So much for genetics.
Suffering from excruciating itching we headed to the pharmacy in search of relief. She tried all the conventional and unconventional methods thought to be effective:
- Antihistamines, externally and internally: generally ineffective
- Cortisone ointment, 1%: slightly lessened the itch, but only temporarily
- Caladryl/Calamine lotion: slightly effective
- Aveno Oat Creme: ineffective
From the health food store:
- Jewelweed: completely ineffective
Clinically, I’ve long used external applications of tincture of Grindelia squarrosa as an antidote for poison ivy. However we could not find it in any of the local health food stores. When we returned home we were able to stop by my clinic and pick up a bottle from the dispensary.
Martha’s recovery was immediate and amazing. Within a day the angry red patches began to lighten up and the terrible itching almost disappeared. Two days later the lesions began to get smaller and the swelling went completely down. By the weekend only a few late-blooming blisters remained.
Later on that week, back home, I was working in my home office, which is a room behind our garage. All of a sudden I started to feel a series of tiny ‘pinches’ on my legs (I was wearing shorts at the time.) However I could see no visible insects an made little of it. Within ten minutes my knees and legs were aflame with a multitude of itchy hard bumps. These were the hard sort of bumps that signal that the culprit was not a mosquito, rather a gnat, horsefly, spider or chigger. We live in the suburbs and have teenagers, so doors always seem to be open, so who knows what got in there. Unlike mosquito bites which itch for a while but usually go away after 24 hours, these bites often take weeks to abate. For all their nastiness, mosquitoes have a certain injection like quality to their bite, which is why they can go through clothing.
Again doing some basic research I concluded that the culprit was probably chiggers or tiny spiders. Again I tried the variety of remedies, all to no great benefit. Grindelia helped somewhat, but I found that compresses of white vinegar worked the best and often would bring relief for hours.
The vinegar allowed me to go the the clinic and work in some degree of peace, but by the evening of the third day the itching came again and was worse than ever. I discovered an interesting fact: some dermatologists actually recommend that you scratch these bug bits enough to open them up. This then allows the skin to flush out the foreign proteins and remove the allergy. This is especially true of these hard bumpy type bites, because they result from the insect chewing into the skin. SO, I washed my hands very carefully and proceeded to scratch the bites, removing the top layer of skin. The skin on this area of the bite is necrotic (dying) anyway, so it comes off easy. As soon as I did the the itchy was replaced by a moment of pain and then complete relief. As a precaution I daubed the area with some Neosporin/Bacitracin ointment so that the bites would not get infected. Within 24 hours the bumps had diminished in size, and I was itch free, although my legs look a bit like I was caught in a buckshot crossfire.
Image: Grindelia integrifolia ©2010 Walter Siegmund
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