Ask a doctor: ‘How can I prevent scarring from bug bites and poison ivy?’

Ask a doctor: ‘How can I prevent scarring from bug bites and poison ivy?’

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With the arrival of summer comes more time spent outdoors — which also means a greater risk of itchy skin conditions.

Bug bites and stings are naturally more prevalent in the warmer weather, which brings out more insects, according to the National Institutes of Health.

Also, exposure to skin-irritating plants — most notably, poison ivy — increases during the summer months.

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As bug bites and conditions like poison ivy become more common, the resulting itching and scratching can wreak havoc on the skin. 

To help reduce the likelihood of scabbing and scarring, Fox News Digital reached out to three medical doctors, who offered their best advice for conquering the itch and keeping skin healthy.

Bug bites and stings are naturally more prevalent in warmer weather, which brings out more insects, according to the National Institutes of Health. (iStock)

Here’s what to know.

What causes the itching?

Local skin reactions are caused by an inflammatory response to one or more of the substances injected by the biting insect or secreted by the offending plant or chemical, Mark Loafman, M.D., a board-certified family physician with Cook County Health in Chicago, told Fox News Digital.  

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“This reaction typically remains localized,” he said.

“But in some cases, it can spread to cause a more systemic or more generalized reaction — either through our bloodstream or, as is the case with poison ivy and poison oak, by inadvertently spreading the substance to other areas with our hands and clothing.”

What causes scarring?

With bug bites or allergic reactions to poison ivy, the bites and rashes themselves do not typically cause disruption to the skin barrier, but they can cause a lot of inflammation, said Chris G. Adigun, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist with Dermatology & Laser Center of Chapel Hill in North Carolina. 

The inflammation can lead to persistent redness and pigmentation, even if the bite or rash is not scratched. 

spraying mosquito repellant

Wearing protective clothing and using insect repellents, especially during the evening hours, can help prevent skin irritants, experts say. (iStock)

“This discoloration will resolve over time,” she told Fox News Digital.

If the bite or poison ivy is scratched, especially to the point that the skin barrier is disrupted and causes bleeding, that causes a wound that may leave a permanent scar, the doctor warned.

Tips to manage the itching

Once you’ve been bitten or see evidence of poison ivy, experts recommend administering prompt treatment with an over-the-counter anti-inflammatory cream, calamine lotion or 1% hydrocortisone cream.

If over-the-counter creams and gels don’t stop the itching, there are other, stronger medicines to try. 

“Both poison ivy and bug bites are very itchy, and the sooner the inflammation is calmed down, the faster the healing process will be,” Lauren Fine, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist at Fine Dermatology in Chicago, told Fox News Digital.

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“Often, the most skin damage is done from aggressive scratching, which will cause more itching and inflammation.”

If over-the-counter creams and gels don’t stop the itching, there are other, stronger medicines to try. 

woman scratches arm

Once you’ve been bitten or see evidence of poison ivy, experts recommend administering prompt treatment with an over-the-counter anti-inflammatory cream, calamine lotion or 1% hydrocortisone cream. (iStock)

“Oral antihistamines can help with ongoing or recurring itchy skin problems, but be cautious about dosing and drug interactions,” said Loafman with Cook County Health.

It’s also important to be mindful of sun exposure, experts noted. 

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Fine recommended applying sunscreen to affected areas and keeping active lesions out the sun. 

To prevent scratching and potential skin damage, she also suggested keeping bites and rashes covered so that there is less temptation to scratch.

Exposure to skin-irritating plants — most notably, poison ivy — increases during the summer months.

Exposure to skin-irritating plants — most notably, poison ivy — increases during the summer months. (iStock)

Wearing protective clothing and using insect repellent, especially during the evening hours, can help prevent skin irritants, Fine said.

For best results, use products that contain active ingredients approved by both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). 

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You can also check with your family doctor or a pharmacist for bug repellent suggestions, experts advise.

If extreme itching or skin disruptions continue, it’s wisest to check with a doctor or dermatologist as well. Some people are more sensitive to skin issues than others and may need prescription medication.

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