Itchies in Azuero

Even in paradise there are a few annoying neighbors to deal with. The best way to avoid and treat is to stay educated! Some common nuisances below :

Stingrays:

Stingray stings are not dangerous, although painful. Just remember – stay calm, deactivate the venom with a lot of heat (hot saltwater).

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When: Typically appear during the Panamanian summer (Dec-May) when the waters are cooler from the current.
Where:  They congregate around the shore to feed on small fish and crabs. Be careful when entering/leaving the water! Be extra careful on days when you see small fish jumping near the shore. Also on days when the waves are bigger, they tend to mill around the ends of the bay where the waves are calmer.
How to avoid :  SHUFFLE your feet – don’t stomp!   When taking a fall off your board, fall backwards with your arms crossed across your chest.
Remedies :   If stung – don’t panic! The immediate, sharp pain will peak in the first 1-2 hours and the area will become swollen.
1. Remove the fragments of the stinger (unless it is in the chest or abdomen – in which case get the medics to remove).
2. Pressurize the area to stop the bleeding and stop the spread of venom.
3. Soak the affected area in HOT WATER or apply a HOT PACK or bury under HOT SAND >>> the hotter the better! Stingray venom is protein-based and the heat will deactivate the venom. (add soap and salt to the hot water – optional). Don’t let the water cool!
4. If available – apply Meat Tenderizer directly on the sting asap to break down and deactivate the protein-based venom.
5. Scrub with soap and water once it’s stopped oozing. Then wrap in dressing (don’t tape shut). Apply topical antibiotic cream if needed.
6. Prolonged pus, redness, and heat could be a sign of infection – antibiotic ointments will help but better to seek medical attention as the doctor may subscribe an oral antibiotic or tetanus shot.

** If you experience any nausea, vomiting, muscle cramping, chills, tightness in the chest, swelling anywhere on the face, difficulty breathing, welts (hives) anywhere on your body…  go to the nearest emergency room immediately, as this could be a sign of an allergic reaction!

Jellyfish:

Unlike the species in the Indian Ocean, jellyfish stings in Panama are mostly annoyances rather than deadly. Jellyfish stings usually result in an annoying rash, a dull stinging, itchiness.

Jelly_cc11When : Typically appear in the Panamanian summer (Dec-May) when the waters are cooler from the current.
Where:  They’re usually around the surf line up and further out in the open sea. They get blown near the shore when the wind is blowing onshore (towards the shore).
How to avoid :   Wearing pantyhose (I know, it sounds silly) or full-body lycra suits are effective protection against jellyfish stings. Lotions like “Safe Sea” claim to reduce stings. The stings are mostly just annoyances rather than poisonous, so most surfers just “brave through it” with rash guards.
Remedies :
1. Remaining tentacles should be removed – with a towel or glove.
2. Continue to rinse with salt water.
3. Apply HOT WATER for 15-20 minutes. (DON’T USE vinegar, alcohol, urine, fresh water, peroxide).
4. Apply SHAVING CREAM to prevent the spread of toxins.
5.  Apply Meat tenderizer : Applying immediately after being bitten may break down the proteins that cause a reaction. Make into a paste w/ water and apply.
6. Benadryl or calamine lotion helps to reduce the itchiness. Paracetomol or ibuprofin will help with the pain. Taking allergy meds like Allegra also helps with temporary itchiness, although long term use is not recommended.

Scorpions:

The ones found here are not that dangerous, unless you are really old, really young, or really allergic (seek medical attention if you are any of those!). The sharp pain is often compared to a wasp or hornet sting – and sometimes causes numbness in the face (that goes away in a day).

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When : Mainly Dry Season (Dec – May). Their main water sources dry up and they come near residences seeking water and food (ants, roaches), and to escape the heat of the sun. They are nocturnal, and appear at night.
Where:  They hide under boards, SHOES, stones, bricks, GARBAGE, logs, PANT LEGS, wood piles, long blades of grass, bags, luggage.
How to avoid : Be careful when picking things up off the ground, both inside and outside the house. Shake your shoes and clothes before putting them on (particularly if they’ve been on the floor). Most locals keep CHICKENS, cats around the house (they eat and chase away the pesky insects). Keep things off the floor – particularly wet towels, newspapers, garbage.. try wearing shoes around a pool or damp areas at night time. I have heard Dos Tigres (green can with a picture of tigers) is a good spray. Seal all doors and windows with weather strips. Plug all holes and cracks on exterior walls with caulking. Scorpions glow under ultraviolet light and are attracted to damp burlap bags (these can be used as water traps). Boric acid (Borax) will kill scorpions (and cockroaches). Put crib legs in clean wide-mouthed jars, pull beds away from walls.
Remedies :
– A home remedy people swear by, is to capture the scorpion and smash it, then press its bodily juices into the sting location as forcefully as possible. This needs to be done asap, before the venom spreads or it will have no effect. 15-30 minutes later the pain and numbness should go away.

– Another home remedy (this one is untested so I’m unsure of its potency) is to hold the end of a lit cigarette right next to the sting as close as possible without burning yourself (asap before the venom spreads). It supposedly takes the symptoms (numb lips, soreness etc..) away.

 Here are some medically-backed remedies :
1. Take a single dose of antihistamine (Benadryl) and analgesic (acetaminophen).
2. Wash the affected area with soap and water.
3. ICE it for several hours .
4. Antihistamine, corticosteroid, and analgesic ointments can help ease pain.
5. Squeezing some of the venom out of the wound can have certain benefits, such as reducing numbness in the area however it will result in some bruising and swelling the next morning.
6. If you experience any of the danger signs below you should go to the hospital. If you can, kill the scorpion and bring it with you. Muscle spasms, Hyperventilation, Racing pulse or heartbeat, Dizziness or disorientation, Anaphylactic shock. OR if an infant or elderly person gets stung!

Chitra:

No-see-ums, Sandflies, biting midges, sand fleas. Call them what you will!  Mosquitos (or as Panamanians call them, zancudo) are bad, but these little buggers are so much worse – firstly because they’re so tiny you don’t even know when you’re getting bitten – until they show up in a series of itchy spots 2 days later that start itching hysterically in the middle of the night!
images (1)When : All year round – but more so during rainy season (June-Nov) when there are more humid and overcast days.
Where:  Outdoors around dawn (6am-9am) and dusk (4:30pm – 7:30pm. They can’t see in the dark.) in sandy areas or grassy areas, anywhere there is wet soil (lakes, swamps, mangrove mud, sandy shores.. similar to mosquito habitats).
How to avoid :   Fans!  Wind is the best remedy as it blows them all away. The best defense against getting sandfly and mosquito bites is to dress well: Long sleeve, ankles and feet covered up (they love ankles). Repellents – some work and some don’t .. The chitra here already seem to be immune to OFF! (I’ve seen them land right onto it); have heard good things about stronger repellents like “Cutter”, “Sawyer”, “Buggspray”. Rubbing citronella oil, coconut oil, baby oil – mask our natural smell (to repel mosquitos) and help your body build up a natural layer of tolerance. Some people swear by Vitamin B supplements to build tolerance to the bites to minimize the itching. Burn incense coils to keep the mosquito away. Drinking alcohol – apparently makes you tastier to the bugs.

Remedies :

1. Don’t scratch!! Scratching will activate the affected area and the itching will persist for longer.

2. Soothe the bites quickly! This is because you are immediately disinfecting the sandfly or mosquito bite before a reaction begins. It may not be itching when you go to bed, but chances are, those bites will wake you.

Some possible rubbing ointments :

– Cold pressed oil mix : 1 Tablespoon vegetable oil (eg. Olive Oil) + 2 drops of tea tree essential oil.
– Meat tenderizer : Applying immediately after being bitten will break down the proteins that cause a reaction. Make into a paste w/ water and apply.
– Ketchup & Mustard : Scientists are unsure why – but they work to soothe the itch!
– Vinegar : Soak a cotton ball in apple cider vinegar and hold/tape in place for a few minutes.
– Rubbing alcohol : will soothe the itch and ultimately may reduce the swelling, while preventing infection.
– Teas : these herbs have antihistamine properties. Take them as a tea, or compress. Herbs to try are chamomile, peppermint, basil, echinacea, fennel, oregano & tea (green or black).
– Pour baby powder on the bites, cover with saran wrap and leave overnight for 3 nights in a row to dry out the toxins.

3. Other natural remedies for the itching :
– Aloe vera
– Baking soda mix :  1 Tablespoon baking soda + 1 pint warm water. Apply with clean fingers, leave on a few minutes, then wash off with warm water. This will lower the pH of your skin and relieve the itch.
– Raw onion or raw apple
– Lavender or tea tree essential oils
– Toothpaste : acts to reduce the itch
– Antiperspirant: May act as an astringent and help dry out the bites.
– water + aspirin
– mouthwash
– Tums + water
– rubbing plantains, banana, lemon, onion, potato.
4: Antihistamines and Calamine lotion help – if the itch is really bad, take an Allegra or Claritin before bed (although not a permanent solution) to keep the scratching at bay.

5. Eventually your body will build a natural tolerance – and the chitra bites will become less bothersome (you may still get bitten, but no allergic reaction).

Ortiga  :

aka Urtica. They’re called stinging nettles in English. In the photo below (I took this after a hike that caused me to break out in a rash) – there looks to be a poison oak front and center, with an Urtica plant behind it (top left). You will know immediately when walking through nettles: the hairs on the leaves/stems inject histamine that produce a stinging / itching sensation upon contact!

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Here the urtica is pictured top center. IMG_6102 3

When :  Rainy season (June – Nov) – when the hills are green with life, the prickly plants also sprout with life too!
Where:  In the hills – mixed among the grass.
How to avoid :   Avoid leaves of three (with a white flower in the center). Avoid plants with jaggety leaves growing out of the center stem, with tiny white clusters of flowers. Do not burn as this will cause irritation in the eyes if the oils land there. Wear protective clothing.
Remedies :
1. Don’t forget to wash all of your clothes to remove the oils.
2. Soap and Water!  : Rinse with warm water and soap ASAP to wash away the nettle juices and oils to prevent spreading.
3. Anti itch remedies :
– Aloe Vera : acts as an anti-inflammatory.
– Antihistamine / calamine ointment or pills
– Vinegar : dries the rash and cools the itching. Damp a gauze with cold white vinegar and apply.
– Milk : soak gauze in cold whole milk and leave on skin for 15 mins (the cold stops the itch and the milk lubricates the skin).
– Oatmeal : soothes irritated skin
– Plantains : some claim this reduces itching!
– Rubbing alcohol : to extract the oils from your skin
– Baking soda: apply a paste of baking soda and water, 3 times a day
4. Go swimming! Salt water can help dry out the rash – so go take a dip in the ocean!

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