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Summer safety: Prisma Health offers advice for preventing and treating bug bites, poison ivy rash

Thursday, May 27, 2021

GREENVILLE, S.C.—More time outdoors means more exposure to plants and insects that could cause common summer ailments. Whether poison ivy, mosquitos, ticks or fire ants, families eager to venture outdoors should be mindful and take precautions to protect themselves and their children.

Aaron Tolan, MD“Children often don’t realize they’ve come in contact with one of nature’s many pests until it’s too late. Most bug bites are harmless, but some can be painful, spread dangerous diseases or cause severe allergic reactions,” explained Aaron Tolan, MD, a pediatrician with Clemson Primary Care. “Luckily, there are many steps that can be taken beforehand, and at home treatments are available if a likely encounter occurs.”

Prisma Health offers the following tips for preventing bug bites:

  • Wear clothing with sleeves, especially in heavily wooded areas, tall grass or when hiking. For an extra precaution, wear closed-toe shoes and tuck your pants into your socks. 
  • Use an insect repellant that contains at least 20 percent DEET. Be sure to read the instructions, especially if using in conjunction with sunscreen, and reapply as necessary.
  • Avoid scented perfumes when outdoors as they are known to attract mosquitoes.
  • Make sure the screens on all of windows and doors are intact to keep out flying insects. If camping or sleeping outside, use a bed net.
  • Teach your children about fire ant mounds, making sure they understand not to kick or poke any they see.  
  • After hiking, camping or extended periods in wooded areas, be sure to check hair and skin for ticks. Younger children will need help with this, but older children should be able to check themselves.

If a bite does occur, the following tips will help you treat it at home:

  • Place an ice pack on any painful bug bites or ones that are beginning to swell to help stave off itching.
  • If itchiness has already begun, use an over-the-counter calamine lotion or hydrocortisone cream to soothe the skin. 
  • Discourage your young ones from scratching or picking at any bug bites to avoid further irritation. If they are having trouble ignoring the area, place a band-aid over it. This can help provide relief and protection, even while they are asleep.

Curious children might come in contact with another common summer nuisance: poison ivy. This bright green plant, along with poison oak and sumac, contain an oil called urushiol that can cause an allergic reaction if it comes in contact with skin. Symptoms will often appear in the form of a rash that is itchy, bumpy or swollen, and red. In severe cases it can cause swelling around the eyes or problems with breathing.

Kevin Via, Md“If you suspect your child has come in contact with poison ivy, begin at-home treatment early. The rash can likely be treated with over-the-counter ointments, creams, or an oatmeal bath, but because topical treatments are less potent than oral treatments, they work better earlier in the course,” said Kevin Via, MD with Prisma Health Family Medicine in Northeast Columbia. 

If the rash does not improve after 10 days or if it begins to swell, become painful or leak pus, see your doctor immediately as it may have become infected. To help prevent poison ivy exposure, be on the lookout for its telltale three-leaved vines around your yard or property and safely remove and discard of them. Avoid burning poison ivy as the smoke can contain urushiol oil and cause a reaction in the respiratory passages if inhaled.

About Prisma Health

Prisma Health is a not-for-profit health company and the largest healthcare system in South Carolina. With nearly 30,000 team members, 18 hospitals, 2,947 beds and more than 300 physician practice sites, Prisma Health serves more than 1.2 million unique patients annually. Its goal is to improve the health of all South Carolinians by enhancing clinical quality, the patient experience and access to affordable care, as well as conducting clinical research and training the next generation of medical professionals. For more information, visit

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