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Bites, Cuts, Spines, Stings - what to do?

Minor cuts, bites or stings need attention and care.

To choose the right therapy, it depends on the critter and the cut. Here, I would like to offer more specific recommendations that will be easy to remember and may be helpful in an emergency.

What to do with bites, cuts, spines or stings? Any injury from a cut, bite or sting that causes unmanageability and immediate extreme stress should be brought to a doctor’s attention by calling 911. Many times minor cuts, bites or stings are not an emergency but they need attention and care. In my early years I was a life guard and took the first aid course offered by the Red Cross. Recently, I was at a friend’s house and saw that same green book from that same course years earlier and they let me borrow their book and study it. It was good to refresh my memory thinking back on those early days when I studied this book for the first time with the first aid and the life saving course. So for management of cuts the conventional wisdom is the wash the area thoroughly with soap and warm water. For bites and stings do the same and after that apply baking soda or meat tenderizer in a water based paste to relieve the pain. On cuts that are not too deep, wash with soap and water and put alcohol on it and cover with a band aid. If the bleeding does not stop then it is not a cut; its a wound and you will need medical attention and possibly stitches. Most of these basic first aid remedies are good, but In some cases these simple solutions of forty years passed can have an improved remedy to achieve the best recovery. To choose the right therapy, it depends on the critter and the cut. Here,I would like to offer more specific recommendations that will be easy to remember and may be helpful in an emergency.

I was born and raised on the Northwest Coast of Florida. But I have to admit that when I ran the laboratory in Addison, Texas in the 1980s my car had a bumper sticker that said, “I am not from Texas, but I moved here as fast as could”. Being a newbie, that bumper sticker made the difference blending in with the local folk.Running the laboratory was all part of being in the Lone Star State, however I do miss the ocean. Growing up on the coast we did everything on, in and around the water. Fishing, skiing, scuba diving, surfing, sailing, swimming etc. My Dad always had a motor boat and when he would get time off from his medical practice he would take my family on a boat trip to south Florida, the Keys or the Bahamas.

During those those ports of call, my brother and I would go snorkeling or scuba diving to see all the tropical sea life and possibly spear a snapper or grouper for dinner. Sometimes I would go surfing. Unfortunately in the wide open ocean there were dangers lurking in the reefs. So whether I was surfing or diving many times I was exposed to predators like els or sea snakes. I knew about their bites and about the poisonous stings from sea urchins or sting ray’s spine and these dangers made us cautious. Sometimes it was unavoidable when I would be coming back to shore and had to walk through the creature infested shallows. If it was sandy, I would poke and prod the best I could ahead of my next step; like searching through a land mind field before proceeding forward. Sometimes it paid off and a hidden sting ray would swim away and I am glad I never had contact with one. Sea urchins are another matter because if you have to walk through rocks it is particularly difficult not to slip into a crack where the sea urchins are plentiful. It happened one time and yes a sea urchin spine got stuck in my foot. Ouch!!!! This is very painful and needs attention right away. Some people are highly allergenic it can cause them to go into shock. I was fortunate not to go into shock and only get a pounding headache and have my whole foot swell up.

The best treatment is to remove as much of the spines as possible with tweezers and a needle. Remember sea urchins, jelly fish, coral and the like excrete polypeptide or protein based toxins. Once the wounded area is thoroughly washed with soap and water the standard treatment is to apply vinegar or witch hazel. But there is a better treatment yet if you are in the tropics eating fruit and have fresh papaya or pineapple and have some meat tenderizer from the kitchen. Take the tenderizer powder with some of the papaya or pineapple fruit and make a paste with the juice and rub it directly on the wounded area. This paste will enzymatically break down and neutralize the toxins that will provide instant relief from the trauma. It will still be painful but the throbbing and trauma will dissipate because the protease enzymes in the fruit coupled with the tenderizer will work rapidly to help neutralize and eliminate the painful chemical neuro-action of the toxin. This is what I did with fresh pineapple and papaya juice mixed with some meat tenderizer with that sea urchin spine that was in my foot when I was in the Florida Keys. Once I got all the spine debris that we could see out I rubbed the paste in over and over again for about 5 or 10 minutes, washing the area several times between the light rubbing. It helped. Try to remember this protocol if you happen to be snorkeling in tropical waters like Cancun and come in contact with jelly fish, coral, sting ray spine or sea urchins. This treatment will be the same.

What about Texas? Or what about the wooded areas of California? Here I worry about bee stings, wasp stings and snake bites. If you are a cowboy and then you have on a good pair of leather boots when going out in the bush, so hopefully you will always avoid danger and be protected from a snake bite. However, it would be more likely for you to get a bee sting or a wasp sting. I think back during my childhood spending time with my grandparents who had a farm in the country in South Carolina. There were many expressions that they used that made useful practices easy to remember. For poisonous snakes they said “never trust a diamond back or diamond head or you will be dead” and in the case of a coral snake that is very poisonous, it has a small round head and different colored rings on their body my Grandpa said; “red on yellow can kill a fellow.” This was referring to the arrangement of colored strips. So if you see a red strip next to a yellow strip don’t get near this wiggly. For stings my grandmother said “baking soda bees” and “vinegar witch hazel wasps.” Recently looking into the chemistry I found that these were excellent treatments. If you are like me working in my garden or cleaning out my shed, you might run across wasps and bees. Here are several important things to remember. One, is Bee venom is an acid compound so you want to use baking soda that is a base to help neutralize the acid venom and use it along with soap and water. Wasp venom is alkaline, so you want to use vinegar or lemon juice with soap and water when washing the wasp sting site. Whether a bee or wasp sting once the washing procedure is done and surface drys then put witch hazel on lightly. Being a natural astringent this will help shrink the swelling and sooth the wound. My grand parents were right all along.This is an important distinction which treatment to use that most people don’t know. By using this protocol, you will quickly relieve your discomfort. The key is to neutralize the toxin ASAP. Baking Soda Bees! This will minimize the trauma and healing of the wound will occur much faster. 

I never found any good natural insect repellant, nor do I use the oils or sprays on my skin. Being a Naturopathic Doctor, I try to avoid all chemicals. It seems that I can swat them just as fast as they come or go. On my runs in the mornings when I pass by a creek there are always deer flies or yellow flies that buzz around me and land on my head and bite. This is painful, but not for long; the result is several dead flies every morning. Oh well, they could leave me alone and lived longer. This process definitely wakes me up after I swat a few. Some creatures we just have to put up with. 

Poison ivy and poison oak are things I avoid with a passion. I never do well once I get exposed. It takes a while for me to get rid of it. There are several over the counter creams to use. The best protection is prevention, so know your plants. Poison ivy is a ground cover plant that will produce runners and have reddish stems with a pattern of three green leaves. Talk to your neighbors if you do not know what these plants look like. Learn to stay away from them and you will be free from itchy swells. Once you know what they look like, you can avoid them.

Working in my garden or in the brush I will from time to time pick up a minor scrap or a cut that does not bleed much. The best remedy I have found for the fastest healing is when I am done with my work, I take a long hot shower and soap up my whole body real good including the cut. Once I get out of the shower and completely dry off I pour hydrogen peroxide generously over the cut. Then I pad it dry lightly and cover it with a band aid. I don’t use alcohol because it is more damaging to the tissue than peroxide. Every morning the first thing out of bed I take the band aid off and pour more peroxide on it and put on a new band aid. I do the same before I go to bed. Morning and evening doing it this way is good to always have a fresh dressing whether its a small cut or healing a wound with stitches. Always change the dressing first thing in the morning and right before going to bed. The hydrogen peroxide brings more oxygen to the site that kills bacteria and accelerates the rebuilding process within the cells of the skin. Oxygen is the key.. 

Fire ant stings are not quite as dangerous however they are quite irritating. They attack everyone and most people I know would like to eliminate them all together. In the past I have used the commercial ant poison powders but it seems like other ant mounds keep popping up. I wanted to stay away from harsh chemicals anyway and started to use the more natural approaches with various products. Some helped but again, in different places, more ant mounds kept popping up. This really did not solve the problem either. Like with my recovery from hepatitis and cirrhosis, I wanted to get rid of them once and for all. Just like I wanted to get rid of the ants, once and for all. Now I have a fool proof and natural way that got rid of my fire ants. It takes about 3 to six months of treating any mounds you will find, but once they are all treated, the ants will never come back. Its been almost a year and not one mound is in my yard. I did not use chemicals. I got rid of my fire ants by pouring hot chicken juice on the mounds. You see that hot chicken juice with those oils flow through all the ant tunnels and slid all the way to the center of the nest and kill the queen. The whole colony is dead in one swoop and I never have a short supply of the remedy, because I cook chicken in my pressure cooker once or twice a week.. Since I don’t eat the skin or the fat that boils off I just pour the hot greasy juice on an ant mound I find and they never came back. Even if the mound is near one of my fruit trees, no worries, the hot chicken juice just kills the ants not the tree. It leaves a brown spot on the ground, but that eventually goes away too.

Ants like bees have a group mind and when the severe treatment of the hot juice and complete annihilation of colonies takes place. If any other mound pops up on the property it gets the same hot greasy treatment too, then trust me; word does get around. The message is clear, “his yard is not a safe place to be in, stay away.” This is ant talk : ) Bottom line is they will be gone forever.

What about when you or your kids get those tiny cactus spines that are impossible to see in your skin. These are most uncomfortable. The quicker you remove the spines, the less prolonged discomfort you will experience. But sometimes you may have too many and they are so difficult to see. The solution is simple. For the affected area with the spines cut a small piece of gauze or cheese cloth that is big enough to cover the spine infested area of the skin. Then get some water soluble glue, like simple wood glue or white Elmer’s glue will work fine. Don’t use Super Glue or Gorilla glue, use only water based white school glue. Cover the piece of cloth with the glue and put it on top of the area of skin where the spines are. After 20 minutes or once its dry, then pull it off and all the spines will come with it. This is a quick way to remove every spine stuck in your skin.