Except for a brief and non-lethal allergic reaction to a bee sting when I lived on Guam, I never had any horrible skin problems or massive nasal allergies on the various places (ranging from the Far East to South Carolina) I had resided. Maybe because I played and swam so much in the ocean — all that saltwater, I guess?
But then my family moved to Texas in 1982, and I got my first fire ant bite, which — fingersnap! — soon had my skin all inflamed and blistered. Then, when the summer turned to autumn, I began sneezing, coughing, watering (nose, eyes), and itching (nose, eyes, throat, ears). I would soon realize that my skin and nose and North Texas would be in a long-term arms race.
Between trees like mountain cedar and cottonwood, grasses of all varieties, and mold mold mold, Texas is notorious for allergens that pretty much only go away during the hottest, driest days of summer.
Also, between mosquitoes, ticks, fire ants, yellow jackets, hornets, paper wasps, and bees, the Lone Star State is also notorious for critters that pretty much can get you if you don’t take preventative measure (like avoiding them) STAT.
After that fire ant bite, I learned 1) never go anywhere outside without protective shoes, 2) watch where I step when running outside, and 3) avoid any tall grasses. But I soon learned that a mosquito bite in Texas wasn’t like a mosquito bite on Guam, because I never had raised, blistery skin after a skeeter bite on Guam, while I had that reaction in Texas.
DEET-laden products became part of my arsenal.
But then — JUNGLE ROT?
When I was 12, somehow — I still have no idea — the skin of my right shin got infected with a fungus, and it advanced so fast and so quickly that it my folks got me to a doctor, who diagnosed the the huge, crazily itchy, weeping wound as jungle rot, caused by a fungal infection but was now also a secondary bacterial infection.
I got 1) an antibiotic shot, 2) a steroid shot, 3) scrips for nuclear-level combo anti-fungal/steroid cream (it was thick, pale yellow, and smelled not to0 bad), antibiotic pills, and antihistamines, and 4) a bottle of these capsules filled with green herbal stuff that I don’t remember what they were, but I was supposed to take with the rest of my meds.
The next time I had jungle rot nearly ten years later, I was misdiagnosed as having scabies by the university nurse, so the infection had advanced to nearly every bit of skin on my body (except my head) before the same dermatologist saw me and gave me the same treatment, but double the dose and treatment time.
Then there’s the atopic dermatitis that can erupt whenever 1) the seasonal allergens arrive, 2) I’m particularly stressed, or 3) when a bug gives my a nasty bite or sting. Rash City, which if it’s bad, it’s back to the doctor.
Between occasional — but thankfully not often — visits to the doctor, I’ve learned to amass a stockpile of OTC meds to self-treat my various reactions to the state that I call home:
- Zyrtec (cetirizine) antihistamine tablets — for me this works better than Claritin, and Allegra is just a little too expensive for my budget, even OTC. Of course, everybody is different, so use the antihistamine that works for you. I buy the store-brand version.
- Pepcid (famotidine) tablets — as my doctor told me, it’s an H2 antihistamine that, taken with H1 antihistamines (like Zyrtec or Benadryl or Claritin), increases the effectiveness of the H1 antihistamine. I buy the store-brand version.
- Ibuprofen — helps with pain and inflammation. Brand name: Motrin. I buy the store-brand version.
- Vitamin C tablets — helps with inflammation
- Hydrocortisone cream, maximum strength (like Cortaid 10) — helps with itchiness and inflammation. I buy the store-brand version.
- Benadryl (diphenhydramine) antihistamine cream or gel — helps with itchy rash and other skin allergic reaction. Store-brand versions are in cream form. The gel is only in name brand (Benadryl) form.
- Miconazole cream — an antifungal that clears up fungal infections. The cheapest and largest volume OTC product is actually the store-brand anti-yeast infection products, found in the feminine products aisle. The jock-itch/athlete’s foot products (with have the same ingredient) is more expensive and smaller in volume.
- Various anti-inflammatory/anti-septic herbal oils — I’ve used tea tree oil, lavender oil, geranium oil, but I was happy to find out that Burt’s Bees Blemish Stick, an anti-acne product, in conjunction with miconazole and hydrocortisone creams, have quickly cleared up a spot of fungal infection on my hand much faster than those two creams alone.
Yeah — that’s a lot of stuff. But except for a bad, non-lethal allergic reaction to a paper wasp that got me back to my doctor’s clinic last month (hello, shots! hello, scrips! hello Epi-Pen, just in case!), I haven’t had another bout of out-of-control jungle rot or atopic dermatitis.
Of course, the best defense is prevention:
- So, as much I would have like some fresh air when the weather was cooler, I have kept the house windows shut and the central air (either heat or A/C, depending on the outside temp) on, with the thermostat at a reasonable number.
- I would replace the air filter like clockwork with Filtrete allergen-reducing filters (which is more expensive than the cheap blue ones but worth it) and dust, vacuum, and sweep regularly, because North Texas homes get dusty FAST (especially since I have a cat — a short-haired cat, yes. But still.) I even try to dust and vacuum the air vents in the house.
- I would declutter the house to eliminate areas for dust to collect and multiply like rabbits.
- I would wash the clothes with no-dye/no-perfume, allergen-reducing detergents (I use All Free Clear).
- Outside of the house, I would mow the grass, prune the trees and shrubs, check for standing water, and remove unwanted tall weeds and ivy to eliminate possible homes and resting places for those stinging and biting bugs (in addition to lessen that pollen count in my own backyard and front lawn!).
- Various fire-ant killer granules, wasp/hornet killer sprays, and skeeter sprays are part of my toolbox to spot treat problem areas, as needed.
Yes, that’s also A LOT of work to do — perhaps too much. But this is what I do to lessen going to the doctor for allergic emergencies or allergy-triggered infections, as well as actually to enjoy living where I live, indoors and out. (Ditto for my son and my sister, who live with me.)
It’s been 29 years since that first fire ant bite when I was ten, and this tropical island transplant has learned to adapt to her Texas surroundings. I hope, dear readers, if you’re in the same boat, that what I’ve learned to do may be of some help.