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Summer Bummer: Skin Suffers

Infections, insects, sun, pool water -- they all wreak havoc on skin.

Poison Ivy continued...

Important note: "If you wash within 20 minutes of touching it, you probably won't get it," Burke tells WebMD.

Once you've got blisters, make sure you don't spread the poison to other parts of your skin. "People think it's spreading, but the blister fluid itself won't spread it," Burke tells WebMD. "You spread it yourself by touching the poison on your skin, then touching another place on your body."

Some "poison ivy protectant" products are available over-the-counter and provide a barrier on your skin. Also, a product called Zanfel Poison Ivy Wash is said to completely remove the poisonous oil from the skin and provide lasting relief from symptoms within usually 30 seconds of application.

Best idea, if you're allergic: Wear long pants and long-sleeve shirts plus gloves if you're around poison ivy. Don't touch clothes after taking them off, and wash them right away. Sensitive people can get it after being exposed to a minor amount, even from pets' fur, says Burke.

To ease itching: Benadryl helps. So do oatmeal baths, 1/2% hydrocortisone cream, and calamine lotion. Putting ice on the itch acts as a topical anesthetic. If your reaction is really bad, a doctor should prescribe steroid creams, Burke says. "It's worth going to the doctor the first time, then using those medications again the next time you're exposed."

Insect Stings and Bites

Usually, insects are just an annoyance -- but some people are deathly allergic to stings and bites. Anaphylaxis is a severe reaction and nothing to take lightly, Burke tells WebMD. "You can't breathe because your throat starts to close. You have to get right to the hospital, or you literally die."

How do you know if you're deathly allergic? If you have a family history of anaphylaxis, or if you've ever had a very bad reaction to a sting or penicillin injection, you need what's known as an "epi pen."

"Epi" is short for epinephrine -- an injectible form of adrenaline -- that reverses the allergic reaction immediately. "I tell people, carry the epi pen in your purse, in your suitcase when you travel," Burke tells WebMD. "Just be sure you have it at all times. They say a certain number of car accidents are caused by bee stings reactions."

Also requiring emergency medical attention:

  • Spider bites
  • Severe reactions to bee stings or fire ant bites (fainting, difficulty breathing)
  • Snake bites (immediately tie a tourniquet to prevent poison from getting into your blood).

To prevent bites from pesky mosquitoes, which could carry West Nile virus:

  • Light citronella candles
  • Wear repellent-treated clothing
  • Put repellent on exposed skin and clothing

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