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Jul 5, 2012

Healthy Living explores summer and skincare

Schools out, the weather is warm, the days are longer, and all these factors combined make it perfect for spending time outdoors. When it comes to skincare, our top concern is usually about sunburn during the hot summer days but there are other irritating skin issues that are more common around this time of year. This week’s healthy living looks at a few of the common skin irritants for adults and children during the summer months, whether you’re headed out to the cayes, inland, or in the backyard.


Marleni Cuellar, Reporting

Some skin issues, Belizeans know well. No matter how well we know them though, pica pica, doctor fly, and chiggas are nuisances that all of us wish to avoid. With the initiation of summer, we sought information from dermatologist, Dr. Peter Craig, to find out ways to prevent and treat these common summer skin hazards. We start with the salt water menace: pica pica also known, as thimble or sea lice.


Peter Craig

Dr. Peter Craig, Dermatologist

“The thimble jellyfish belong to family of invertebrates that are characterized by special stinging cells called nematocysts.  These cells are microscopic and within them are a special adaptation with something like a harpoon when this is triggered it releases these harpoon on a thread that pierces into the skin and the length is such that it gets into the dermis and attached to the end of the stinging cell are special toxins and proteins. So it si actually the person developing an allergic reaction to these proteins attached to the nematocysts.”


Most of us know how to spot the thimbles in the sea and usually stay away; but, the actual culprit of the stings are microscopic and you wouldn’t be able to see them in the sea.


Dr. Peter Craig

“The adult thimble jellyfish are very easy to see. They look like a thimble and studies have shown that the adults have these stinging cells. Belizeans know that if they go swimming and they see these jellyfish they don’t get into the water. What really affects us when swimming in the sea around this time of year are the larvae of the thimble that is part of the life cycle. These are the things that are microscopic.”


And it is that very same larvae that attaches itself to your swimming clothes. The sting though doesn’t occur till you get out of the water.


Dr. Peter Craig

“Once someone in swimming the larvae get under the clothed area of the swimming suits and there once the person comes out of the water, once the person starts to get dry, these nematocysts will then discharge.”


So what should you do if you’re stung?


Dr. Peter Craig

“Some people use ammonia compounds, people talk about Windex, ice can help as well if it’s early. You can use topical steroids something like hydrocortisone. And topical antihistamines like Benadryl may help but they aren’t as useful as a topical steroid. If the reaction is very severe the person will need systemic steroids which is of course oral medication”


Preventing a sting from the larvae of the thimble means taking extra precaution when you exit the water.


Dr. Peter Craig

“First of all if you go swimming, try not to rinse with your bathing suit on in fresh water. So if the showers are close by you just want to go into your room and take off your suit and then shower. If you have to wash off then just sue see water just to wash off yourself. Cause the change in osmotic pressure will cause these cells to discharge.”


It is when the clothing dries that the larvae trapped in the suit discharge their sting; so changing out of your suit before drying can be very helpful. Also try not to use your towel too vigorously as that friction can cause the same to happen. Wash your swimsuit every time you use it and sunscreen can be helpful as a protective barrier.


The next summertime menace is the doctor fly; also known locally as yellow jacket. No matter what the name, its bite is notoriously painful and itchy.


Dr. Peter Craig

“The doctor fly is quite a common insect that is found all along the coast and also inland. The scientific name is that it belongs to the family of the Tabinidae so it’s called the tabinid or tabano in Spanish. The doctor fly is unique is that it is the female of the species that feed on blood. They are very ferocious feeders they will seek you even inside your homes.”


Doctor Flies attacks throughout the day; it’s most active during the late afternoon and is especially common near large bodies of water and mangroves. But why such a painful bite?


Dr. Peter Craig

“The bite of the doctor fly is actually related to the mouth parts which are like a series of stiletto blades. They land very silently you don’t even know they are around. They get their blood meal by introducing the mouth parts in the skin. Before they actually get the blood out of the person’s skin the inject proteins from their saliva which has anti clotting properties and it’s these proteins that we are allergic to—that are deposited into the skin. And again depending on how allergic a person is to these foreign proteins will determine what the response will be for that individual. So if you are very allergic, you can even get to the most severe allergic reaction like fever chills, fainting; some individuals have to be taken to an emergency center right away. Most people however will have local discomfort, redness, swelling, warmth, sometimes the skin feel numb and severe itching as well.”


Insect repellant is helpful in deterring bites and once, you’ve been bitten ice helps to reduce the immediate swelling and topical steroids like hydrocortisone can be use to relieve itching. For more severe allergies, oral medication or even an emergency room visit may be necessary.


The last bug that can be a nuisance during this time is chiggers. These tiny mites are found in tall grass or weeds.


Dr. Peter Craig

“Chiggas are mites; they belong to the arachnid family. They have four pairs of legs; they are not true insects. So scorpions and spiders and ticks are in that same family. Chiggers are found in dry grassy area and walking through in your short pants and stuff, the chiggers would brush off from the plants on to your skin. They will move up your legs or your arms and once they reach areas where there is restriction with your clothing—so along your waist; women along their bras—these chiggers will bite. They have special biting mouth parts and they will introduce these biting mouth parts into your skin for a meal. And again, they release proteins and saliva which causes the allergic reaction.”


The itchy bumps they leave behind are treated according to the response of the individual. But in most cases the reaction is mild and can be treated with hydrocortisone cream. Repellant, once again, can help you to ward off chiggers.

Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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