When summer rolls around, many of my patients ask how to prevent bug bites. Some folks claim that eating a lot of garlic, taking high doses of B vitamins, or avoiding sugar and beer work to keep insects at bay. I haven’t found these strategies to be universally effective, though they do work for some people.

Essential oils can do a good job of repelling insects, particularly citronella, an oil derived from the Cymbopogon plant, and the oil of lemon eucalyptus. Both are available in skin sprays and lotions, candles, and insect-repelling incense. These must be reapplied every 60 minutes to be effective, and they generally don’t work well against ticks, wasps, or bees. Additionally, some people are allergic to essential-oil preparations, making these repellents even more unpleasant than a mosquito bite.

My favorite suggestion surprises some of my patients: In my view, the most reliable repellent is to be mentally a few steps ahead of the insects. For example, investigate your hedge before trimming it. As I learned the hard way, many years ago, failing to check on insect habitats can end up in a disaster. I got 15 stings on my face and head seconds after slicing through a hornet nest hidden just inside the hedge with my first enthusiastic swipe with the electric hedge trimmer.

Reliable bug repellents are wearing long-sleeved shirts and pants when walking through moist areas where mosquitoes live, checking overhangs and gutters before painting or washing your house, and looking for bees or spiders in the coupler of a trailer or under the shady roof of a dog house before you move them.

If you do have the misfortune of being bitten by a summertime insect, a few natural medicines work well to relieve the pain and speed healing. My immediate, go-to remedy for any kind of bite is T Relief lotion. This homeopathic preparation is available online and over the counter in most natural food stores. Apply a small amount directly to the bite several times a day until the bite injury is healed.

If the insect bite is pink, hot, and puffy, apply ice and take homeopathic Apis 30 C for relief. The dose is two pellets under the tongue, away from meals, twice daily for one to three days. Warning: Apis is made from bee venom, so do not use it if you are allergic to bees.

Spider bites carry a greater risk of local infection than other insect bites, so I prescribe Echinacea tincture applied full strength directly to spider bites several times a day and taken internally to boost your immune response. The typical adult internal dose of Echinacea tincture is 60 drops in 2 ounces of water, away from food, four times a day for up to a week.

With all insect bites use common sense, not only in prevention but also in treatment. If a bite is very painful, if you develop a fever, or the bite or surrounding tissue appears infected, see your doctor.

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