Mosquito Mania: Chose Natural Solutions Over Chemicals

You may be one of those people for whom the warmth of summer is far too brief and this brief time period of glorious warmth is often further interrupted by a familiar sound  (Bzzzzz!!) and an even more familiar sensation in the form of an itching bite! Those nasty mosquitoes can drive even the sanest person 'crazy'.  And with the looming threat of such diseases as West Nile Virus and encephalitis (a virus that causes swelling of the brain), proper protection from biting insects, such as mosquitoes, when outdoors is a major concern of many people. The common answer is to dowse our skin and clothing with insect repellent. Insect repellents are valuable for protection of exposed skin from nasty mosquitoes, ticks and other unwelcome pests while enjoying outdoor activities. However, some insect repellents actually pose health concerns that you should be aware of before applying them to yourself or your children.

 

We all know it is really not a good idea to spray a bunch of chemicals on your skin to solve the problem. But at the same time, mosquitoes can become so annoying that I’m sure you find yourself willing to spray anything on! The good news is, there are some tricks to keeping those annoying arthropods at bay, and they don't involve applying dangerous toxic chemicals to your skin. And there are also natural remedies if you do fall victim to a bite or sting.

 

About 3,000 species of mosquitoes have been described on a world-wide basis. Approximately 150 are known to occur in North America. Here are some fun facts about the little bloodsuckers:

  •  Mosquitoes do not feed on blood -- they actually feed on plant nectars. Female mosquitoes are the only ones who bite and they use blood to nourish their eggs prior to laying, imbibing about 5 millionths of a liter per "feeding".
  • Mosquitoes are attracted by carbon dioxide, lactic acid and other body chemicals, such as folic acid, as well as your body heat, and can sense these from 25-35 meters. Fragrances from hair sprays, perfumes, deodorants, and soap can cover chemical cues. They can also function to either enhance or repel the hostseeking drive.
  • Dark colors capture heat and make most people more attractive to mosquitoes. Light colors refract heat and are generally less attractive.
  • Women, and people drinking beer, have been shown to be more attractive to mosquitoes. So if you're a woman drinking a beer, watch out.
  • In one study, a full moon increased mosquito activity 500 percent.
  •  If you turn on a light at night you will have noticed that it is magnet for bugs. What most people are not aware of is that if you use a newer LED bulb it will NOT attract bugs. This is because most LED bulbs do not emit wavelengths in the UV spectrum like incandescent or fluorescents do

 

The best way to avoid mosquito bites is to prevent coming into contact with them in the first place. You can avoid most assaults by staying inside around dawn and dusk, which is when they are most active. If you must be out during those times, wear long sleeved shirts and long pants, hats and socks. Also, consider investing in bug spray.

 

The most commonly used chemical in commercial insect repellents is DEET (N,N-diethyl-3-methylbenzamide). The pesticide DEET was patented by the U.S. Army in 1946 and it is still widely used. Currently, DEET is used in more than 230 different products -- in concentrations of up to an astounding 100 percent. According to the CDC, DEET is one of the few pesticides that can be applied to the human skin.  However, if a chemical has the capacity to melt plastic or fishing line, it's not wise to apply it to your skin -- and that is exactly what DEET does.

 

The Duke University Pharmacology Department conducted a study in 2002 that showed damage to brain cells in some laboratory animals due to constant, routine exposure to DEET based insect repellents. The study went on to conclude that persistent exposure to insect repellents containing DEET could lead to symptoms such as frequent headaches, loss of memory, fatigue and respiratory problems. According to the testing, children are at an even greater risk because of their skin's ability to readily absorb the chemicals into the body. A 2001 Human and Experimental Toxicology report revealed children becoming ill after DEET exposure and suggested it was not safe for them in any amount. In fact, the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) and AAP (American Association of Paediatricians) have posted cautions about using DEET products on infants and toddlers at all.

 

Fortunately, there are very effective repellents on the market, comprised of natural botanical oils and extracts that are every bit as effective as DEET but with none of the potentially harmful effects. Citronella, lemongrass oil, and peppermint oil have been known to be effective bug deterrents for many years. Many people also consider pure vanilla, tea tree oil & eucalyptus to be effective against mosquitoes. Natural bug sprays containing the above oils, as well as others are readily available at health food stores and through the internet. In independent studies some of these natural bug sprays have been found to be more effective at preventing bug bites than 100% DEET products.

 

Are you prone to bug bites or worried about being stung by a bee or wasp? There are several homeopathic remedies that you can use safely at home for bites and stings.   See your homeopath or book a complimentary information session with Andrea at Sage (519-573-6700) for more information on the safe and effective treatment of bites and stings for you and your family. 

 

In the meantime, there are also many herbs and other natural agents that are soothing to the skin, and many have anti-inflammatory properties. You may want to experiment with some of these for your occasional mosquito bites:

  • Aloe Vera: One of the most nutritionally alive plants on earth, aloe contains over 130 active compounds and 34 amino acids that are beneficial to your skin.
  • Calendula: This herb is used for its soothing, moisturizing and rejuvenating properties.
  •  Chamomile: The most soothing herb of all, whether used in a tea or applied to the skin. It is rich in the bioflavonoids apigenin, luteolin and quercetin.
  • Cinnamon: In addition to possibly repelling mosquitoes, cinnamon has antibacterial and antifungal properties.
  •  Cucumbers are helpful for reducing swelling.
  • Honey: Raw organic honey has many powerful healing qualities and has been used for centuries.
  • Tea Tree Oil: From the Melaleuca alternifolia plant of Australia and widely used by the aboriginals, tea tree oil is helpful for healing cuts, burns, infections and a multitude of other skin afflictions. It is also a good antimicrobial, including fungal infections.

 

Have a great, healthy, safe and fun summer!