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Your Health
Tiny creepy crawlies can pack one heck of a wallop

By Cara Reed
special to Land Line


This is part of a series of features that will include tips on how to save yourself from various injuries and accidents while out on the road.

For truck drivers, summer brings longer days, lush scenery and the famous “left arm tan.”

This season of beauty and splendor also brings something else: insects that bite and sting.

For many, insect bites and stings cause little more than an annoying itch or discomfort that lasts only a few days. Most insect stings in non-allergic people require no more than simple first aid and symptom relief.

But if you’re allergic to insect venom, bee stings or spider bites, you should know that a little bite can cause a lot of trauma and swelling, as well as a life-threatening reaction known as anaphylactic shock.

Unfortunately, most people don’t know they are allergic until after they’ve been bitten.

For an over-the-road driver, the middle of nowhere is not where you want to find out. However, being prepared to treat a bite or sting, looking out for signs of anaphylaxis, and knowing when to seek medical help may save your life – or someone else’s.

When bitten or stung by an insect, your skin is broken and injected with venom. It is normal to have a small amount of swelling, redness, pain, and itching at the site of the bite.

It’s when your body’s immune system overreacts to the venom that moderate to severe reactions occur, including anaphylaxis – a variety of allergic symptoms ranging from itching at the site of the bite and swelling of the lips and eyelids to systemwide release of histamines and life-threatening swelling of the throat and respiratory passages.

Bites from mosquitoes, ticks and flies mostly cause mild reactions, whereas bee stings and spider bites cause more involved reactions. Treatment depends on the severity of the symptoms and reaction.

Mild symptoms of a bug bite can be soothed by an ice cube or cold cloth to slow the spread of the venom. Be sure to wash even the smallest bite with soap and water, or antiseptic gel. Scratching the area will only irritate the skin, help venom spread and possibly cause infection.

Itching and mild swelling can be treated with 1 percent hydrocortisone cream, antihistamine cream such as Benadryl cream, or calamine lotion. If a stinger is left in your skin, remove it. Scrape or brush off the stinger with a straight-edged object, such as a credit card or the back of a knife. Don’t try to pull the stinger out; doing so can cause it to release more venom.

Signs of an infected bug bite are increased redness, warmth, and swelling at the site, pus, red streak(s) traveling toward the body, fever and chills. Infected bug bites need prompt medical attention.

Hives are a common sign of a systemic, or “body wide” allergic reaction. They appear as irregular, raised, red, blotchy areas on the skin and are itchy. If hives are the only systemic symptom you have and you have no trouble breathing, a non-prescription antihistamine such as Benadryl will help. The generic ingredient to look for is diphenhydramine.

For people who have known allergies or those who have children in the house, many doctors recommend keeping liquid antihistamines or rapid-dissolve strips or tablets. They work faster than capsules or pills and are easier to swallow.

Symptoms that can develop beyond hives include swelling of the face and lips, shortness of breath or wheezing, chest tightness, sensation of the throat closing, inability to speak or swallow, lightheadedness, weakness and sweating. At this point, anaphylaxis is occurring, and immediate medical care is required. Do not attempt to drive.

Use the CB or your cell phone to call for help. Stay calm, because a rapid heart rate can cause the venom to spread more quickly. If possible, lie down with your feet elevated above your head. If vomiting, lie on your side. Loosen any tight clothing.

Take Benadryl (diphenhydramine) if you can. If your doctor has prescribed an auto-injector of epinephrine (Epi-Pen), administer it by placing the auto-injector over your thigh and holding it in place for several seconds. Massage the injection site to enhance absorption.

If you are a team driver, make sure your partner knows about your history of allergic reactions and tell him or her what to do in the event of emergency. If you have a known history of severe allergic reactions, consider purchasing a medical alert bracelet. And whether you are known to be allergic or not, keep an allergy kit with you.

You can minimize your risk of bites and stings by wearing long-sleeved shirts or pants and tucking your pants into your boots or socks if you’re walking through tall grass. If you prefer short sleeves, use an insect repellant containing DEET. Avoid colognes, perfumes and aftershaves in the warm months.

Be extra vigilant when hauling “bee and bug friendly” loads such as lumber, fruit or garbage. Check trailers for nests and hives.

And even though fuel prices may force many of you to use less AC this summer, shutting the windows will help keep bugs out. I just don’t know how to keep them off your windshield. LL


Cara Reed, M.S.N., lives in Old Forge, PA, and is a registered nurse and clinical nurse specialist in adult/geriatric health. She currently practices primary care and adult preventative health. Cara is the wife, daughter and sister of truckers and has always been interested in the trucking industry and, in particular, truckers’ health habits.

Update your kit


If your first aid kit contains only a couple of Band-Aids and half a bottle of iodine, you need to take a bold step into the 21st century. Considering the diverse regions and working conditions truckers face, it’s just good sense to be prepared.Add these anti-allergy items to your truck’s first aid kit. Check expiration dates when you buy to make sure your protection will be effective when you need it most.

  • Benadryl (generic name diphenhydramine) liquid, dissolving tabs or capsules;
  • Benadryl cream, hydrocortisone cream or calamine lotion;
  • Epinephrine auto injector (often referred to by the brand name Epi-Pen). Ask your physician if your risks are great enough to merit having one of these prescription-only “pens” with you at all times. They retail for about $70 to $80 if you don’t have insurance;
  • Neosporin or some other “triple antibiotic ointment” (generic names: bacitracin, neomycin, and polymyxin B); and
  • DEET-containing bug repellant.

Caution: Benadryl capsules can take an hour or longer to begin working. The active ingredient diphenhydramine often causes drowsiness. You may need to rest before resuming your trip. If you are in a situation where you have to use an epinephrine “pen,” you should seek medical attention as soon as possible. LL