Bumpy, itchy and blotchy: How to treat common skin rashes and bug bites.

September 22, 2021 | Walk-In Care | Sheehan, Shaun M., DO, EMT-HP

Rashes and bites are common this time of year, especially in central Pennsylvania. Fortunately, most of the insects and plants you’ll encounter aren’t cause for serious concern, and often you can effectively treat bites and rashes right at home.

Spider bites
There are 60 spider species in North America, but most are relatively harmless to humans. 

“Spiders bites rarely cause serious problems,” said Dr. Shaun Sheehan, Corporate Emergency Services and Transfer Center Medical Director at Penn Highlands Healthcare. “In fact, fewer than three people die of spider bites each year.”

Generally, most people bit by a spider will experience some redness, swelling and mild pain at the location of the bite.

How to treat spider bites:

  1. Clean the area with warm water and soap.
  2. Apply a cold, damp washcloth or ice pack.
  3. Elevate the bite area.
  4. Take an antihistamine to ease itching and swelling.
  5. Take an over-the-counter pain reliever for pain and swelling.

Black widows and brown recluses are among the most dangerous spiders in North America. While black widows are native to Pennsylvania and brown recluses have been found here, both are rare in this region. But because they are dangerous, you should be familiar with the symptoms and contact your healthcare provider if you experience them:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Heart palpitations, a racing pulse or other heart problems
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Severe muscle pain, cramps, weakness or paralysis
  • Signs of infection, such as fever or yellow discharge from the bite area
  • Vision problems or severe headache

Mosquito bites
You can often identify a mosquito bite by looking at it. Look for a puffy, reddish bump a few minutes after the bite, or a hard, itchy, reddish-brown bump a day or so after. You may also experience small blisters instead of hard bumps or dark spots that look like bruises.

Most mosquito bites stop itching and heal on their own in a few days, but be sure to avoid scratching mosquito bites, which can become infected. An infected bite may appear red or feel warm and a red streak will spread outward from the bite. If your symptoms worsen, contact your healthcare provider.

How to treat mosquito bites:

  1. Clean the area with warm water and soap;
  2. Apply a cold, damp washcloth or ice pack;
  3. Mix 1 tablespoon baking soda and just enough water to create a paste, apply it to the mosquito bite, wait 10 minutes and wash it off. This will reduce the itching;
  4. Apply an over-the-counter antihistamine cream.

Tick bites
“In recent history the number of patients diagnosed with tick related illness has risen ,” said Dr. Sheehan. “I recommend that everyone takes the necessary precautions to prevent tick bites.”

Some Precautions include: 

  • Wearing insect repellent;
  • Putting permethrin in clothing or gear;
  • Doing frequent checks for ticks on your body.

If you get bit by a tick, a rash called erythema margins will appear and is the first symptom of Lyme disease. The rash is usually warm to the touch and is circular, red on the outside, and clear in the middle. Sometimes, it is referred to as looking like a bullseye. 

Poison ivy, poison oak and poison sumac
All three plants contain sap with a toxic oil called urushiol, which is responsible for the rash that most people experience after coming into contact it. Poison ivy, oak and sumac cause red and itchy skin, a red rash that develops in streaks or patches where the plant has touched the skin or a red rash that becomes bumpy with or without small to large wet blisters.

How to treat poison ivy, oak and sumac:

  • Apply an over-the-counter cortisone cream or ointment;
  • Apply calamine lotion or creams containing menthol;
  • Take oral antihistamines, such as diphenhydramine (Benadryl) or loratadine (Alavert, Claritin);
  • Soak the affected area in a cool bath with half a cup of baking soda or oatmeal-based bath product;
  • Place a cool compress on the area for 15-30 minutes several times a day.

“Typically, most bites and rashes aren’t cause for concern, but if your symptoms get worse or if you’re concerned, you should always contact your healthcare provider,” said Dr. Sheehan. 

Penn Highlands offers immediate primary care at its QCare Walk-In Clinics in Brookville, Emporium, Clarion, Clearfield, DuBois, Philipsburg, Punxsutawney, Ridgway and St. Marys. Penn Highlands Huntingdon also offers an Urgent Care walk-in clinic. For more information, visit


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Sheehan, Shaun M., DO, EMT-HP


Emergency Medicine


Emergency Department - DuBois