Warm summer weather and more time outdoors bring with them predictable health problems, mostly minor, but nonetheless annoying. I would like to share some “home remedies” which are based mainly on herbal or holistic approaches.
There are long-term preventive measures which may lessen susceptibility to various problems. However, when problems arise, short-term relief is needed. I have only had poison ivy once, and that coincided with a time of rapid personal change. So I can readily believe that stress altered my normal balance and left me vulnerable. But, at the time, having what my friends cheerfully referred to as a “good case,” I was totally preoccupied with itching, and not at all with Ultimate Causes.
Poison ivy and oak are a good place to start. These plants are both in the Rhus family. Some people are very sensitive to the plant juice, and will break out in a rash where it contacts the skin. The rash is red with small water-filled blisters which are often in linear streaks and may run together. Poison ivy does not spontaneously spread from one part of the body to another, but plant juice on clothes or hands may cause rash wherever it touches.
Many people recommend washing with naptha soap (Octagon soap) as soon after exposure as possible. I think an excellent preventive measure is to recognize the plants and avoid them.
Once the rash and itching develop, several measures may help. I got the best relief simply by applying cool compresses. The addition of a small amount of salt (1 tbl./quart water) seemed to help dry it. Applying the juice of the jewelweed plant also was beneficial. This remedy is mentioned by Euell Gibbons in his book, Stalking the Healthful Herbs. Another highly recommended remedy for poison ivy, sunburn and most skin irritations is juice of the aloe plant. Aloe is a succulent which is not native to this area but can be grown as a house plant.
When poison ivy involves the eyes to any degree, or severely covers the genitals, contact a health resource person, because of the threat of infection in already damaged skin. Signs of infection are increased redness and heat, pain, and pus. On the extremities, red streaks may run toward the trunk, following channels for lymph drainage.
Another common summer problem is insect stings from bees, wasps, yellow jackets, and hornets. These insects inject a foreign substance which is poisonous to some people. Reactions range from local redness and swelling, to wheezing, sudden swelling of the tissues in the larynx, respiratory distress, nausea, dizziness and shock. Severe reactions are an emergency and can be fatal. Anyone who experiences more than a local reaction should consult a health practitioner.
For local reactions, I have seen poultices ranging from baking soda to mud to a wad of chewing tobacco. The latter doesn’t particularly appeal to me; however, crushed leaves of aloe, comfrey, peppermint or coltsfoot are all soothing.
I have read that perfumes and colognes attract stinging insects. I can’t comment on the reliability of this, but it sounds sensible to me.
Sunburn plagues almost everyone at some time, and is usually quite mild. Those who are outdoors year-round and follow the sun through its seasons run less risk. Extrapolating from this, I believe in gradual exposure and feel holidays can be ruined by trying to acquire a tan in one afternoon.
Cool/cold water is the most soothing application I have found for burns of any kind. (Plunging burns from cooking immediately into cold water not only lessens the pain, but may also limit the size and severity of the burn.) Again, aloe may be soothing.
I do not believe in applying over-the-counter preparations to sunburned skin. Damaged skin should be treated as gently as possible since it lacks the resilience of normal skin. The most common complication of sunburn is an allergic reaction to chemicals applied with therapeutic intent. Medications can affect the skin in another way, by increasing sensitivity to sunlight. An example is the antibiotic tetracycline, which is commonly prescribed for acne. If you are taking medications, be sure to inquire about possible side effects if this information is not provided.
Wearing clothes which are of loose knit, natural fibers which breath — i.e., cotton vs. polyesters or synthetics — is also comforting to sunburned skin. Staying out of the sun and wearing no clothes is most comforting of all.
A word about ticks. Usually tick bites are no problem at all (although I feel some queasiness about ticks/leaches/blood-suckers-in-general, human and otherwise). Ticks can be more easily pulled off by applying a drop of oil to the head and waiting a few minutes. The oil suffocates the tick which can then be removed with minimal trauma. Pulling the head rather than the body avoids leaving the head embedded, and the bite can then be washed with soap and water.
The problem with ticks is Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, which is carried by a small organism hosted by wood and dog ticks. Although spotted fever is not common, North Carolina is one of the more heavily infested states, and it helps to know symptoms which may indicate possible infection.
There is no danger from ticks which do not embed in the skin. Following a true bite, the usual incubation period for spotted fever is three to twelve days. If, during this period, fever and headache, followed by a rash, occur, further consultation is advised. The headache is generally severe, and most intense above the eyes. Fever may reach 103-104 degrees F. in the first two days and persist. Muscle aches and fatigue are common. During the first week after appearance of fever, a rash appears. Initially the rash is flat, contrary to hives; pink; does not itch; and occurs on the extremities. A rash on the palms and soles is highly suggestive, as few other conditions demonstrate this pattern.
If caught early, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever is not usually disabling, and mild cases may recover without treatment. However, many health professionals treat known infections, even though mild, with antibiotics, because of the potential seriousness of the condition. Advanced infection is marked by internal hemorrhages, shock and diminished kidney function. If symptoms similar to those described above are noted within two weeks after a tick bite, professional advice is in order. Let me stress again that few tick bites result in spotted fever.
As a general approach to illness, I feel most discomforts can be somewhat eased, and healing encouraged, by focusing energy and love on the affected part. I am often afraid of pain and my fear translates to tenseness and decreased blood flow to the part which hurts. Relaxation may improve blood flow, carrying in nutrients and removing toxins. By feeling positively toward dis-ease, instead of dissociating from it, energy goes toward healing instead of resistance.