Summertime in Illinois is a great time of year with families traveling for weekend getaways, hiking, camping, fishing and a host of other outdoor activities. Depending on where you go and where you stay, there may be bugs and plants that can leave their mark on you. Here are some of the plants and insects in Illinois that can cause blisters, rashes, pain or be really, really itchy.
Giant Hogweed and Wild Parsnip: Giant Hogweed, which can grow up to 14 feet high, and Wild Parsnip are most likely to be found in the northern 2/3 of the state. Both plants secrete a sap, that when combined with sunlight, creates a reaction that causes large blisters and a rash.
(Giant Hogweed and Wild Parsnip Source: Goodhousekeeping.com and Wild Parsnip Blister Source: USA Today)
If this happens to you:
- Wash the affected area and cover rash with cool, wet cloth or bandage to reduce swelling.
- Consider use of an antibiotic cream to avoid infection.
- Protect the affected area from sunlight with clothing, gloves and footwear as sunlight may make it worse.
- Consult a physician for serious cases with extensive blistering and rash. Steroids may be used if the rash is severe.
Poison Ivy, Poison Oak and Poison Sumac: Poison Ivy is found throughout Illinois. Poison Oak is not native to Illinois and has only been found in a small area of Pope County. Poison Sumac is mostly found in Northeastern Illinois. All three plants contain a toxin called Urushiol. When touched, nearly all parts of these plants can trigger a severe, itchy and painful skin inflammation with large weepy blisters. Somewhat disturbingly, the toxin can persist on clothing, shoes, tools, or animals that have been in contact with the plants, and can later poison a victim who did not touch the plant themselves. Exposure can also occur from contact with the smoke from burning Urushiol-containing plants.
Treatment options include:
- The rash and blisters will clear in 1-3 weeks by themselves, so keeping them clean and dry is very important
- Wash well with soap and water to remove as much of the remaining toxic oil as possible.
- Wash all clothes and shoes well to remove the Urushiol oil so that a second exposure does not occur
- Can try oatmeal baths (e.g. Aveeno) to reduce itching and inflammation
- Can try calamine lotion or hydrocortisone cream to reduce itching
- Indications to see a health care professional include: Temperature over 100 F; pus on the rash, soft yellow scabs; if the that gets worse or keeps you up at night; the rash spreads to your eyes, mouth, or genital area; or if the rash doesn’t get better within a few weeks
Bugs, Bites, Stings and Blisters:
Blister beetle: There are over 20 types of blister beetles native to Illinois, many of them can be found in soy and alfalfa fields and products. Blister beetles contain a toxin called Cantharidin that is used for self-defense. Interestingly it is also the active ingredient in the aphrodisiac ‘Spanish Fly’ (which by the way, doesn’t really work). Touching the beetle or worse yet, smashing the beetle against your skin can release the toxin and cause painful blistering – the blisters usually appear 24 to 48 hours after exposure.
(Striped Blister Beetle Source: http://bulletin.ipm.illinois.edu and Blister Beetle Blister Source: healthyliving.com)
Some things to know if you end up with a blister from a blister beetle:
- The rash will get better on this own in about a week
- To prevent infection of the affected area, wash the blister with warm, soapy water each day, and apply a topical antibiotic.
- Consider using a topical steroid to decrease inflammation
- Apply a cold compress to the area several can also ease swelling and pain – this can be done several times a day
Chiggers: The little microscopic critters are also called harvest mites, harvest bugs, harvest lice, mower’s mites, or red bugs. Technically, these bugs are not insects, but arachnids and are in the same family as spiders and ticks. The adults themselves do not bite, but the baby larvae do as they feed of the animal they are attached to. They larvae tend to be clumped together in groups on leaves and grass, usually less than a foot off the ground, and they will attach to animals or people that pass by and come in contact with the vegetation they are on. The bites are commonly seen in hikers, golfers, picnickers and others who come into contact with grassy areas. The bites are usually on exposed areas and can form welts, bumps, pimples and blisters.
(Chigger Bite Source: webmd.com)
If this common cause of rash/blisters happens to you:
- The itchy rash, bumps, blisters usually lasts for several days to a couple of weeks on their own
- Take a bath or shower and scrub your skin with soap and water. This washes off any chiggers that may still be on you.
- Wash your clothes and any blankets or towels that touched the ground with hot water to kill and remove any bugs that may still be hanging on the clothes.
- Can consider treating the itchy symptoms with an over-the-counter anti-itch cream like calamine lotion or hydrocortisone.
- Cold compresses can give temporary relief.
- Antihistamines like Benadryl can also calm the itch.
- For very severe cases, may need to see a health care professional for possible steroid use.
These are just a few of the bugs and botanicals that can cause blisters and other types of dermatitis. The exposures described above are common in Illinois during the summer time and none are active threats in the cold Illinois winter. Some ways to prevent exposure is to be aware of the plants and insects that can cause injury and the habitat they live in. It is useful to wear long pants and long-sleeve shirts to avoid direct contact with the toxin containing plants and insects.
Best wishes for a happy, active and ouch-free summer! Mike