Sometimes, it’s the little things that get you. A rash flares up and gets infected, leading to blood poisoning. Or an animal bite or sting introduces a pathogen or toxin into your body. How do you know what got you? And how do you treat these problems, in the field and at home? Check out this gallery for a crash course in rashes and bites.
Poison Ivy Rash The dreaded itch from our three-leafed friend poison ivy may not seem like a dangerous thing at first; and it’s usually just an annoyance that we can man-up and ignore. But what happens if you get it all over your face, and your eyes swell shut? It happened to me about 17 years ago. You are virtually blinded until the swelling subsides. What if you burn the vines accidentally? By inhaling the smoke you can get the poison ivy inflammation in your lungs, which creates a very dangerous respiratory condition. Either way, you don’t want to mess with poison ivy, especially if you are in the deep wilderness where hindered breathing or blindness could cost you your life. You can recognize this rash by the clusters of fluid-filled blisters, which have clear pus inside and itch like nothing else on earth. Photo by jovino
Poison Ivy Treatment If you know that you just came into contact with the leaves, vines, berries or roots of poison ivy, you can wash with a product called Tecnu. This oily lotion will work within 8 hours of exposure to remove most of the poison ivy oils that are the culprit for the maddening itch. If you already have the blisters, then treat them with Calamine lotion, with ample amounts of time and patience. And don’t scratch–you’ll just make it worse.
Fungal Infections Getting dirty outdoors and staying dirty can lead to some prime real estate on your body for very common types of fungal infections to take hold. Some of the chief offenders are athlete’s foot, jock itch, ringworm and yeast infections of the digestive tract, lungs, mouth (oral thrush) and vagina (vaginal yeast infection, vaginal thrush). You’ll see a wide range of symptoms based on the type of infection, but the most common fungal symptoms are scaling and flaking of the skin of the feet; red, scaly rash in the groin area; red, itchy area on the scalp, often in the shape of a ring with hair loss in the affected area; mouth lesions or sores that are raised, yellow-white in color, and appear in patches in the mouth or throat and/or on the tongue; vaginal irritation with burning during urination; and digestive infections with diarrhea, nausea and/or vomiting.
Fungal Treatments These ailments can be hard to properly diagnose in the field, and even harder to treat out there. If you can get to medical help, then do so before a small infection becomes a bigger problem. If you have no way out of the wild, and no anti-fungal meds in your first aid kit, you can try an old-school remedy that I have used successfully–crush acorns and boil them in water. The tannic acid from the boiling of acorns can help your body fight off external fungus, and it can help to dry up poison ivy also. Just smash up one quart of acorn nuts and their shells, and boil for 15 minutes in one quart of water. Let the liquid cool, and saturate a dressing over the infection with the tea-colored water. Leave the wet dressing in place for an hour or more. Use the acorn water externally, several times each day until the fungus is gone, or you reach a doctor.
Staph Infection This rash is no joke, as it can be quite dangerous. It’s also fairly common. Outdoor living and sub-par hygiene can easily lead to a Staphylococcal skin infection. To make a field diagnosis, look for a crusted infection site; red, painful areas around an infection site; blistering; fever and chills; weakness and fluid loss. Also, the top layer of skin will slip off with rubbing or gentle pressure. It is possible for staph skin infections to resemble other skin conditions. You really need to get to the doctor for this one.
Staph Infection Treatment If things have gone too far, you’ll need intravenous antibiotics and IV fluids to prevent dehydration; otherwise a strong course of antibiotics will knock out most staph infections. Staph can be one of the most dangerous rashes to get, and you should always seek medical help if you even suspect this ailment.
Non-Venomous Snake Bite Just because the snake was non-venomous, doesn’t mean the bite is not a problem. Any snake can bite you when it is hurt or cornered, and their cold-blooded mouths can be full of bacteria. You shouldn’t have any diagnostic trouble figuring this one out. You’ll know it when the snake bites you. Most non-venomous snake bites can be treated by washing with soap and water, and covering the wound with antibiotic ointment and sterile dressings. But feel around the wound for hard spots before you dress the wound, as there may be a little snake tooth or two still stuck in there. Pull them out with tweezers or forceps, and then proceed to wash and dress the wound.
Photo by rahulalvares
Scorpion Sting Hiding in your boot or up your jacket sleeve, a scorpion can go unnoticed until it decides to sting, which can feel like several hornets zapping you at once. It may take a moment to figure out what “bit” you, but in scorpion country it usually doesn’t take long to make the connection. These little weasels love to investigate tight spaces, so a good measure of prevention is to shake out all clothing and footwear before putting them on if scorpions are in the area. The types of venom differ from species to species. But there are only about 30 to 40 scorpions out of the 2,000 species in the world that have venom that is dangerous to humans. Photo by Kidcamico
Scorpion Sting Treatment If you get nailed by a scorpion, and you are not experiencing any breathing trouble or signs of shock, the treatment is simple enough. Wash the sting with soap and water. Remove all jewelry because swelling of tissue may impede the circulation if it’s not allowed to expand (for example, a sting on a finger that has a ring on it). Apply cool compresses, usually 10 minutes on and 10 minutes off of the site of the sting. Treat yourself to some acetaminophen (Tylenol). One to two tablets every 4 hours may be given to relieve pain (usually not to exceed 3g per 24 hours). Avoid aspirin and ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) because they may contribute to other problems. Antibiotics are no help, so don’t bother and do not try to cut into the wound or apply any suction. Photo by kaibab vet
Jelly Fish Sting Jellyfish tentacles can extend for several feet beyond this sea-going glob of goo; and those tentacles are lined with venom-filled cells (nematocysts). When you brush against one while in the water, just one tentacle may fire thousands of nematocysts into your skin. Symptoms of a jellyfish sting can vary depending upon the type of jellyfish and location of the sting. The pain can be severe, particularly in the first hours after an attack, and itching is common. There may be weakness, nausea, headache, muscle pain and spasms, lacrimation (tearing) and nasal discharge, increased perspiration, changes in pulse rate, and chest pain. Welting may persist for weeks at the site and scarring can remain for years.
Jelly Fish Sting Treatment Stings from box jellyfish found in Australian waters are the most dangerous type of jellyfish sting. The box jellyfish venom may cause cardiovascular collapse along with respiratory and neuromuscular paralysis that can kill an adult within minutes. Poisonings by the box jellyfish of Australia require the administration of jellyfish antivenom, which reverses the effect of the poison. If you are stung by any jellyfish, always remove any tentacles that are adherent to the skin using gloves or forceps. Apply household vinegar (5% acetic acid), which will inactivate any un-discharged stingers and lessen the severity of the symptoms. Over-the-counter pain relievers should be started immediately for minor stings. Narcotics may be needed for severe pain. Serious stings may require oxygen or cardiorespiratory assistance. Intravenous fluids and epinephrine may be needed if shock develops. Always seek emergency medical care if you are stung by a jellyfish and you become severely ill, have difficulty breathing or swallowing, or develop severe pain following the sting.
Lyme Disease Just one bite from an infected tick can be all it takes to contract Lyme disease. The early symptoms of LD can be mild and easily overlooked. An expanding “bull’s eye” rash will occur in 80 to 90 percent of all LD cases, usually (but not always) radiating from the site of the tick bite. The rash may last a month, and be associated with several other rash spots, or none at all. Around the time the rash appears, other symptoms such as joint pains, chills, fever and fatigue are common. These symptoms may be brief, only to recur as a broader spectrum of symptoms when the disease progresses. The stronger symptoms can include rashes that are not at site of the bite; migrating pains in joints/tendons; headache; stiff, aching neck; facial palsy (facial paralysis similar to Bell’s palsy); tingling or numbness in extremities; and a host of other strange symptoms. Photo by Alan Bayersdorfer and Cyane Gresham
Lyme Disease Treatment Treatment within the first few weeks after the initial Lyme disease infection will almost always result in a full cure. Doxycycline, amoxicillin and ceftin are the three oral antibiotics most highly recommended for treatment of Lyme disease. A recent study of Lyme arthritis in the New England Journal of Medicine indicates that a four-week course of oral doxycycline is just as effective in treating late LD, and much less expensive, than a similar course of intravenous Ceftriaxone. Sorry folks, but there’s no witch doctor crushed acorn remedy for this one. Every outdoors person should be tested annually for Lyme disease with the Western-blot blood tests to determine whether you are infected.
Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever More dangerous than Lyme Disease, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (RMSF) is the most serious tick-borne disease in the United States. It is caused by Rickettsia rickettsii, a type of bacteria. These bacteria are transmitted to humans by the bite of certain hard ticks, most often the American dog tick, the brown dog tick and the Rocky Mountain wood tick. The classic symptoms of RMSF include a fever and a spotted rash, although these are not always present. Photo by Larry Frenkel, MD
Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever Treatment RMSF can be a fatal disease, and victims will often require hospitalization. Patients who delay seeking care from a physician, and do not receive antibiotic treatment as soon as they should will often have high fevers and be at significant risk of slipping into shock. RMSF is typically treated with a course of tetracycline antibiotics. Once you have recovered from RMSF, it is thought to provide long-lasting immunity against re-infection, but I know someone who has gotten it twice, a few years apart. As with Lyme disease, if you have tick bites and then feel ill, get to the doctor ASAP.
Bee Sting A honey bee, hornet or wasp can be a killer, if a person gets stung enough times or they are particularly sensitive to those insects’ venoms. It’s debatable which one is worse between bees and wasps. Most stinging wasps have a smooth stinger which can stab a victim over and over, injecting venom each time. The stinging bees have a detachable venom gland and a barbed stinger, which is harder to remove and may keep pumping venom in to the victim from their single sting.
Bee Sting Treatment The bee sting victim will need immediate, professional help if they experience trouble breathing; feelings of faintness or dizziness; hives; a swollen tongue or they have a history of severe allergy reaction to insect stings. If the culprit was a honey bee sting and the stinger is still embedded, remove the stinger by scraping the area with a fingernail or credit card. Using tweezers to remove it will often pinch the venom sac – which can inject more venom. Scraping is the best method. Once the stinger is out, or if there wasn’t one embedded, you can control swelling with ice on the sting area. If you were stung on your arm or leg, elevate it. Make sure you remove any tight-fitting jewelry from the area of the sting. As it swells, rings or bracelets might become hard to get off, or even hinder your circulation. You can give an over-the-counter painkiller like acetaminophen or ibuprofen for the pain of the sting. You can also take an antihistamine for the swelling and itch, apply a topical mixture of baking soda and water, or apply some calamine lotion.
Rabid Animal Bite A bite from an animal acting strangely should always be treated as if it was a rabid bite. Rabies is a fatal viral disease that affects the central nervous systems of mammals, including humans. Symptoms of the virus include such flu-like symptoms as fever, headache and/or melancholic behavior. Other symptoms can include unusual pain at the site of the bite, confusion, insomnia, agitation and hallucinations. According to the CDC, once signs of the virus appear, the infection is often fatal within seven days. It is always smart to seek immediate medical attention after being bitten by a wild animal, a feral animal or a pet that is acting strange. In order to diagnose rabies in humans, several tests must be performed, including on saliva, serum, spinal fluid and hair follicles. The test for animals can only be performed after the animal’s death.
Rabid Animal Bite Treatment Treatment of a rabid animal bite most often includes immunizations and wound cleansing, but the exact course of treatment depends on the level of contact with an infected animal. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), these steps can prevent the onset of the virus in nearly every case. For those cases that result in anything from minor scratches to contact that breaks the skin, the WHO recommends anti-rabies vaccinations as soon as possible and that anti-rabies antibodies should be administered to those with weak immune systems.
Rattlesnake Bite Bites by venomous snakes can result in a wide range of symptoms and effects, but the bite of a rattlesnake is the most common venomous snake bite in the US. These bites can range from simple puncture wounds to life-threatening illness and death. The body’s reaction to this venom can also be misleading. A victim can have no initial significant symptoms, and then suddenly develop breathing difficulty and go into shock. Always be aware of the venomous snakes in your area, and if something does bite you, get a look at it for identification purposes, as the antivenins vary from snake to snake. For example, rattlesnake venom is very different, and treated with different medicines, from coral snake venom.
Rattlesnake Bite Treatment If you are less than one hour from the nearest emergency room, the initial treatment is relatively simple: What should NOT be done after a rattlesnake bite is just as important.
Black Widow Bite Getting bitten by the feared black widow spider usually creates a weird set of symptoms within 20 minutes to one hour of the bite. The victim may experience localized pain, which may be followed by localized or generalized severe muscle cramps, abdominal pain, weakness, and tremor. Large muscle groups (such as in the shoulder or back) are often affected, resulting in considerable pain. In severe cases, nausea, vomiting, fainting, dizziness, chest pain, and respiratory difficulties may follow. The severity of the reaction depends on the age and physical condition of the person bitten. Children and the elderly are more seriously affected than young adults. If you didn’t see the spider bite you, or if it bit you in your sleep, the abdominal pain may mimic such conditions as appendicitis or gallbladder problems. Any chest pains from the bite may be confused with a heart attack.
Black Widow Bite Treatment Treatment for serious reactions to a black widow spider’s bite will be beyond the scope of many medical offices and urgent care centers; and certainly above your pay grade to treat in the wilderness. Pain relief may require the use of narcotics and antivenin (antitoxin to counteract the effects of the spider venom). The decision to seek emergency care should be made earlier rather than later. If the person who was bitten by a black widow spider has more than minor pain or has whole-body symptoms, seek care immediately at a hospital. My grandfather almost died of a Black Widow bite many decades ago. His backside, a black widow and an old outhouse toilet seat did not make a great combination. Being stubborn and from a different era, he waited to seek treatment, thinking that his strong constitution would fight off the venom. Thankfully, he went to the doctor before it was too late.

GRAPHIC IMAGE WARNING: We take a look at the most common rashes, bites and infections you can get in the wild. Here’s how to avoid them and treat them.