Mosquitoes can make life miserable.
Thye can ruin barbecues, concerts or just a stroll in the park.
"I can't think of a good reason for them," said Dr. Ken Haller, a SLUCare pediatrician.
Haller has the perfect prescription if mosquitoes feast on your skin. Dab a bit of roll-on antiperspirant directly on the bite.
"The aluminum salts in the antiperspirant help the body to reabsorb the fluid in the bug bite," he said. "The swelling goes down and the itching stops."
Haller spreads the news to his patients and their parents during the summer months during routine check-ups.
Many respond with, "you've got to be kidding," Haller said.
Haller first learned about the antiperspirant trick 10 years ago from a nurse practitioner.
"It was the strangest thing I ever heard," he said.
He tried the technique and found it worked. It is now a staple in the backpack he carries with him on bike rides.
Antiperspirant's main purpose is to reduce perspiration. When antiperspirant is applied under the arm, the aluminum salt makes fluid less available and keeps individuals from sweating, Haller said.
Haller, an associate professor of pediatrics at St. Louis University School of Medicine, explains that when mosquitoes bite the skin, they release cells and chemicals that make fluids build up in the skin. When this occurs, there are various chemicals, including histamines, that the body releases to fight the invasion, which causes itching to occur.
"The inflammatory response ends up being worse than the thing it's trying to fight against," Haller said. "Our body kind of overreacts."
His advice is to avoid putting antiperspirant on the hands or face because people don't want to ingest aluminum salts.
"Roll-on antiperspirant works best because it gets absorbed quick," Haller said.
Mosquitoes aren't the only insects out there with the ability to bring a good time to a quick halt.
Dr. Raymond Slavin, professor of internal medicine at SLU School of Medicine, said 2 million people are allergic to insects with stingers, which include yellow jackets, wasps, honey bees and hornets. Symptoms can include hives, asthma and a drop in blood pressure. Severe reactions can lead to death.
"It's a systemic reaction," Slavin said.
This type of reaction occurs because the body is allergic to the venom left by the insect. People with allergies must go to the emergency room for treatment.
If doctors suspect an allergy, they will test a patient. Once an answer is known, patients can receive a series of allergy shots to help reduce the reactions of future stings.
Shots usually are covered by health-insurance providers. Multiple shots are given during a five-year period.
In any given year, the Venom Referral Clinic at SLU will see nearly two dozen patients who are allergic to insects with stingers.
"Summer is when insects are present," Slavin said. "Summer is when they become aggressive."
Shelia Evans of Ellsinore, Mo., came to the clinic last month and learned she was allergic to stinging insects. She begins her shot treatment July 22. She hopes the shots will help prevent such an easy reaction to future stings, she said.
"If a person is allergic to an insect, there is a 60 percent chance the next time a person is stung, the patient will have as bad a reaction or worse," Slavin said.
Once bitten …
Here are some tips to avoid mosquito bites:
— Mosquitoes are active in the morning and evening
— Make sure there is no standing water in the yard
— Use insect repellents
— If using Deet, put it on clothing and exposed areas of the skin, but not the hands or face
— Use citronella candles
— Avoid bright colored prints because it attracts insects
Ouch! That stings
Here are some tips to avoid getting stung by an insect:
— Don't walk in the yard barefoot
— Avoid floral-smelling perfumes around swimming pools
— Never remove a nest