Ahhh, summer! The joy of being in the great outdoors seems endless. Yet, the season also brings an abundance of biting insects, harsh sun rays, and rash-producing plants. When exuberant squeals turn into screams of pain, most parents are well versed in the standard treatments: ice, OTC pain relievers, lotions, and antihistamines. But with a “kick in” time of up to 30 minutes, many parents wish for faster relief than these standbys provide. The good news? Simple home remedies can be used alone or in conjunction with the standards for great results. Even better, most kitchens hold a treasure trove of quick-acting treatment options.
Naturopathic doctor Michelle Rogers explains, “The main advantages include fewer side effects, supporting the body’s natural ability to heal itself (which is essential for the maturing immune system), cost-effectiveness, and decreased environmental impact.” Here are some household remedies for treating the unavoidable stings, bites, and burns of summer.
Bee, wasp, and hornet stings. A bee stings once but leaves its stinger behind. Remove the stinger as quickly as possible. More venom is dispensed the longer the stinger is in the skin. Wasps and hornets do not leave their stingers behind and may sting multiple times. Leave the area before starting treatment!
Make a thick paste using water and one of the following ingredients:
Meat tenderizer (contains papain, which is said to break down proteins in the venom)
Charcoal (the activated form is cleanest, but charcoal from a campfire can be used in a pinch)
Honey (unpasteurized contains antibacterial agents)
Apply directly to the wound. Leave on for 20-30 minutes.
Or try one of these plant-based items:
Papaya (a natural source of the papain found in meat tenderizer)
Plantain (a common backyard weed) ground into a poultice
Leave on the wound for about 20 minutes.
Itchy bug bites. Many of the remedies used for stings (e.g. baking soda, charcoal, and onion) may also be used to treat itchy bites from mosquitoes, horse flies and black flies. Additional remedies for itching include:
Oatmeal bath (scroll down for instructions)
Aloe cream (refrigerated for better itch relief)
Green tea bag (dampened and refrigerated)
Tea tree oil, witch hazel, or alcohol (including hand sanitizer)
Basil, crushed (repels mosquitoes and contains anesthetic properties)
Mouthwash with menthol (cools the bite site)
Sunburn. A cool bath is often the best way to relieve sunburned skin. Many believe oatmeal, baking soda, or vinegar can add soothing properties. After a soak, try one of these home remedies:
Aloe (best straight from the plant, but pre-made lotions are helpful)
Milk or yogurt
Potatoes (pulverized to a liquid, dried on the skin, and showered off)
Corn starch (dusted on non-blistered areas irritated by clothing straps or bands)
Poison ivy, oak, and sumac. To prevent a skin reaction, plant oils must be removed within an hour of exposure. Dish and laundry soaps break down oils better than regular hand soap. Gently lather and rinse with cool water several times. After the onset of a rash, a cooling bath can work wonders. Oatmeal and baking soda are great anti-itch additives. Other soothing agents include Epsom salts, buttermilk, and mint tea. Then dab the rash dry and apply one of the following to dry the outbreak and speed healing:
Paste of oatmeal, baking soda, or vinegar
A bag of frozen peas placed on the rash site is the ultimate in cooling relief!
Emergency! When to Seek Medical Attention
Rogers warns that “when it comes to stings, it is always essential to rule out anaphylaxis (severe allergic reaction) before turning to our home remedies.” Other severe medical conditions may also warrant treatment by a medical professional.
Call 9-1-1 immediately when any of these symptoms are present:
Skin reactions (hives, itching, flushing) in areas other than the sting site.
Swelling of the mouth, throat, and/or tongue.
Weak and rapid pulse.
Nausea or vomiting.
History of dangerous reactions to stings (even if symptoms are not present).
Other reasons to seek medical attention:
Multiple stings—when a child has been stung more than 10 times.
Mouth stings (lips or inside mouth)—the airway may be affected if swelling is not reduced quickly.
Mosquito bites resulting in severe headache, neck stiffness, or disorientation may indicate West Nile Virus.
Blistering sunburn covering a large portion of the body.
High fever or extreme discomfort.
Failure to begin healing after several days.
How to Make an Oatmeal Bath—for relief of itchy, burning skin
1. Measure about a cup of unflavored oats per bathtub of water. Instant, quick-cooking, and old-fashioned oats all work well.
2. Grind the oats to a fine powder, using a coffee grinder or food processor on the “high” setting.
3. Test your powder by adding a spoonful to a cup of warm water. It should make the water look “milky” and feel “silky.” If there’s a lot of sediment, you need to grind it more.
4. Pour the ground oatmeal into running tepid bathwater, stirring as you go.
5. Be sure to help your child in and out of the bath, as it will be slippery.
Ashley Talmadge is a freelance writer and mother of two boys. She enjoys writing about the many facets of parenthood, and her articles have appeared in dozens of parenting publications across the U.S. and Canada.