How to Treat Insect Bites and Illnesses in the Wilderness

There is not a better way to prepare for injuries or illnesses that may occur when you are on your trip than to take first aid and CPR classes offered by the Red Cross or another reputable organization. If you intend on spending any time in the wilderness, investing in first aid and CPR training should be part of your preparation. This type of training should never be viewed as an option that you can take or leave.

The information you will get in this article will offer you a basic introduction and give you enough information to prepare you; however, it is not meant to serve as a replacement for medical skills taught to you by a professional in a first aid or CPR class.

Treating Colds and the Flu

You should treat a cold or the flu while in the wilderness in the same way that you would treat it at home. Make sure you take plenty of fluids. If a member of your group has a cold or the flu, make sure they drink plenty of fluids. You can administer a pain reliever or fever reducer as needed. A pain reliever and fever reducer should always be part of the supplies you pack.

Treating Burns Including Sunburn

Burns to the skin can be caused by hot, boiling liquids, chemicals, electricity, fire, and even the sun. There are three types of burns: first degree, second degree, and third degree. The type of burn is classified by the damage done the skin. Being able to recognize the type of burn will help you to be able to better treat it.

First degree burns include sunburn. They are the mildest type of burns since they only affect the first layer of skin. To treat a first degree burn, put some cold water on it to ease the pain. You can also administer a pain reliever. Do not place ice or cotton balls on a first degree burn. They can increase the risk of infection.

Second degree burns cause skin redness and possibly blisters. These types of burns are typically caused by chemicals, hot items such as fire, and scalding. To treat a second degree burn, follow the same steps for treating a first degree burn, then wrap the burned area in a handkerchief or cloth to prevent infection. You can also apply a burn cream if you have some available.

A third degree burn is the most serious type of burn. It will look white and leathery. This type of burn affects all layers of the skin. It can spread to the blood, organs, and bones, causing nerve damage, blood loss, and infection. A third degree burn can be fatal. You should never try to treat a third degree burn. Instead, try to get the burned area elevated above the heart and seek medical help as soon as you can.

Treating an Asthma Attack

If you or anyone in your group have asthma, you want to be sure to pack an inhaler. This should be packed along with the regular medications. If you are someone in your group is having an asthma attack, follow the steps listed below:

1.       Make sure the person is sitting upright. Loosen any clothing that may be tight.

2.      Use the inhaler if the person has one. If not, you can use one from a first aid kit or use someone else's if one is available.

3.      To use the inhaler with a spacer, remove the cap and shake the inhaler into the spacer. According to the American Red Cross, the person should put their mouth around the spacer and breathe out. Press the inhaler once. The person should then breathe in slowly and hold their breath for ten seconds. Give them four puffs. Wait for a minute before each puff.

4.      If there is not a spacer, have the person tightly close their lips around the mouthpiece of the inhaler. Have the person take a slow and deep breath while you press down on the top of the canister. The person should then hold their breath until the count of ten.

Interested in learning more? Why not take an online Basic Wilderness Safety course?

Treating Insect and Spider Bites

Antihistamines should always be included as a part of your medical kit. Not only may they be necessary for someone with allergies, you will also need them on hand if anyone gets a bug bite or sting. If you cannot identify the source of a sting or bug bite, you should clean the affected area then administer antihistamines. If there is a stinger left behind, it should be removed using whatever method works.
Listed below are some of the common bites and stings along with their treatment.
  •          Ants. Ants can bite. The bite from a fire ant is extremely painful and leaves clear, small blisters where the bite occurred. An ant bite should be cleaned with soap and water. Administer an antihistamine if it is needed. If the person bit is allergic, use the bee sting kit.
  •          Bees and wasps. If stung by a bee or wasp, the stinger should be removed by scraping along the skin with a knife or fingernail. Use a cold compress or a cool mud paste to relieve itching. Do not scratch the sting area. This will open it up to infection. If your medical kit contains a bee sting kit, know how to use it before your departure for someone who is allergic to bee or wasp stings.
  •          Millipedes or centipedes. Did you know centipedes inject venom using their front legs? Millipedes have toxins on their bodies that are irritating to your skin. If bitten by a millipede or centipede, you may experience redness, pain, and swelling to the bitten area. Clean the area with soap and water. Use pain relievers if necessary.

  •          Mosquitoes and flies. Insect repellant should be used to prevent bites from mosquitoes and flies. You should also take care to cover exposed parts of the body with either clothing or mud to deter these insects from biting. If bitten, you can use an anti-itch cream to reduce itching.
  •          Scorpions. Scorpions have flat and narrow bodies with lobster-like claws, as well as eight legs and a tail. The tail has a venomous stinger. The sting from a scorpion is painful, but not fatal to human beings. The venom from a scorpion is neurotoxic. Follow the treatment for a neurotoxic snake bite.

  •          Spiders. Most North American spiders are non-poisonous. You can treat the bite by cleaning it, then administering a pain reliever, anti-itch cream, and/or an antihistamine if needed. That said, there are two poisounous spiders that you need to watch out for: the black widow and the brown recluse.

    The female black widow spider is the most venemous spider in North America. It is 15 times more toxic than the prairie rattlesnake. The good news is that they only inject a small amount of venom with each bite, meaning a bite from a black widow is not usually deadly. A female black widow spider is shiny, black, and about 1.5 inches long. She also has a red hourglass shape on the underside of her abdomen.

    The bite may be painless, which makes it hard to notice when it happens. Symptoms caused by a female black widow bite include muscle cramps including the stomach, sweating, nausea, vomiting, swollen eyelids, headache, and hypertension. To treat the bite, clean it with soap and water, then apply a cool compress. The affected limb should be elevated above the heart. Healthy people usually recover within two to five days.

    The brown recluse spider is yellowish to brown in color. It ranges from ¼ to ½ inch in length and has a violin-shaped patch on the head and midregion. The bite can initially cause a mild stinging or burning sensation, but is then quickly followed by ulcerative necrosis. A bite from a brown recluse starts out red or blanched. A blue-gray halo shape develops around where the bite occurred. The bite can then turn into ashen putstules or lesions that are filled with fluid. The skin around the bite becomes red and patchy.

    The bite from a brown recluse causes tissue around the bite area to die. If untreated, the area of dead tissue expands. If bitten by a brown recluse, clean the bite with soap and water and immobilize it. Apply a compress to the bite area and administer pain relievers. Whoever is bitten will need medical attention as quickly as possible.

  •          Ticks. Remove a tick by grabbing the base of its body and applying backward pressure until the tick releases. If the head is not removed with the body, administer an antibiotic cream, then bandage it. It should be treated as any other kind of open wound.

    Treating Animal and Snake Bites

    Snake bites are often not poisonous. Those that are poisonous are rarely deadly or even debilitating. However, if you are unsure whether a snake bite is poisonous, you should always treat it as if it is.

    Poisonous snake bites are categorized in one of two ways. They are either hemotoxic, which means they damage blood vessels and cause hemorrhaging - or they are neurotoxic. Neurotoxic snake bites can paralyze nerve centers that control respiration and the heart.

    An animal bite should be treated as any other open wound. Clean the bite thoroughly. Apply anti-biotic ointment, then bandage the wound. Administer pain relievers if needed.

    Hemotoxic Snake Bites

    Hemotoxic snake bites come from rattlesnakes, puff adders, sand vipers, horned vipers, and sidewinders. Immediately after the bite, you will see one or more fang marks and experience burning at the site. After five to ten minutes, there may be mild to severe swelling. Within 30 to 60 minutes, you may experience numbing and tingling in the lips, pace, fingers, toes and scalp.

    Twitching of the eyes, mouth, face, and neck may occur after 30 to 90 minutes. Sweating, nausea, vomiting, chest tightness, increased heart rate, rapid breathing, sweating, palpitations, chills, confusion, headache, and fainting often occur one to two hours after the bite. The bite area will appear bruised and can form large blood blisters within two to three hours. Difficulty breathing, as well as internal bleeding and collapse, often occur after six to 12 hours.

    Neurotoxic Snake Bites

    Neurotoxic snake bites come from mambas, kraits, cobras, and coral snakes. Immediately after being bitten, you may not experience any symptoms. You may have some burning, and there may be a little bruising and swelling. However, numbness and weakness of the bitten extremity often occurs within 90 minutes after being bitten. After one to three hours, it is common to experience increased salivation, drooling, twitching, nervousness, drowsiness, and even giddiness. Difficulty speaking and swallowing, double vision, and impaired breathing are experienced five to 10 hours after the bite. Without medical intervention, you can die.

    Treating a Poisonous Snake Bite

    Anyone bitten by a poisonous snake needs medical attention as soon as you can get it. The person who is bitten will have to be transported to a medical facility. A poisonous snake bite is something you can only temporarily treat before and as you transport the person to a hospital.

    To treat a poisonous snake bite:

  •          Make sure the victim lies down and stays still. Activity will increase the spread of the venom.
  •          If you can kill the snake so you can bring it to the hospital for identification, do so, but prevent yourself from poisoning by cutting off and burying the head.
  •          Remove the toxin from the bite by using a mechanical suction device. You can also squeeze it for 30 minutes. Do not cut and suck. In addition, do not apply ice or pour alcoholic beverages on the bite area.
  •          Remove restrictive clothing or jewelry from the bite area. Clean the wound, then apply a bandage to the bite site. If the bite is on an extremity, use a pressure dressing. Place it two inches above the bite, between the bite and the heart, to help stop the spread of poison. You should also splint the extremity and keep it below the level of the heart.