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Ice Is Nice for Insect Bites

To relieve the annoying itch of insect bites, your best bet may be the simple application of ice to numb the bitten area and reduce inflammation. Cynthia Graber reports

Spring is in the air. And so are those dang insects, hungry for a blood meal. The victim can wind up with a bunch of bites, red and itchy. So what drugs can quench that itch? Maybe none, according to a study in the Drug and Therapeutics Bulletin. ["Management of simple insect bites: Where's the evidence?"]

Researchers reviewed the literature on a variety of treatments. Topical antihistamines? Generally not recommended. They’re only marginally effective and shouldn’t be used for longer than three days.

Oral analgesics like ibuprofen are sometimes recommended, but the scientists say there’s no evidence supporting that. Topical anesthetics such as lidocaine are only marginally effective and can sensitize the skin—meaning the itching could ultimately get worse.

And common topical steroids like hydrocortisone? The problem here is that they’re not supposed to be used on broken skin. And if you’ve been scratching, that skin may already be broken.

The authors recommend a simple approach: clean the area, and use a cold pack to tamp down inflammation and numb the nerves. If you haven’t broken the skin, try the steroid cream. But your best approach may be ice. The cold hard fact is that this cold hard treatment works.

—Cynthia Graber

[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]

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