Microscopic oak mites give monstrously itchy bites

Oak mites are making more people than usual miserable with itchy, welts and bumps on their skin. A Northern Virginia allergist has good news and bad news and advice for what to do.

Oak mites are microscopic; they can’t be seen with the naked eye. They create welts and bumps with a centralized blister that begin to develop 8 to 12 hours after they bite you.

The good news? They won’t be around long. They’re especially abundant this year because they’ve been feeding on the larvae of Brood X cicadas, but that’s about to change.

“This has been a particularly troublesome year, just with the cicada season,” said Dr. Troy Baker, an allergist with Kaiser Permanente in Springfield. “So, it’s generally not this miserable.”

“Once the oak mites’ food source dies off, [when] those cicada larvae burrow underground, then this problem is going to go away for us,” he said.

The bad news? Victims can expect to be itchy for about two weeks.

“They usually will stay on your skin till they die. And by the time you notice it, it’s kind of too late. And so then, you’re kind of doing damage control if you haven’t done the prevention part,” Baker said.

Anyone spending time outdoors anywhere near oak trees or dry grasses might be at risk of oak mite bites. They get blown around easily. Baker’s prevention tips include wearing long sleeves when outdoors and using a bug repellent containing DEET.

What remedies work? Try something with hydrocortisone.

“Nonprescription creams or ointments generally will work fine,” he said. “If it’s not cutting it after two days, then I would ask your physician for a stronger topical steroid cream to help you be a little bit more comfortable.”

Baker said long-lasting antihistamines in the morning, in addition to Benadryl at bedtime, will help.

Other tips include using cold cloths or ice to help soothe the area. Also, use a soap for sensitive skin while bathing. Once out of the shower, don’t rub the towel over your skin; pat yourself dry. Cut fingernails short and filed smooth, and resist the urge to scratch.

Scratching an itch only makes you feel itchier, Baker said, and it can allow germs to create a skin infection.

“It also damages the skin, so you’re more likely to get bruising or some hyperpigmentation, some darkening of the skin, that will last several weeks once the bite resolves,” Baker said.

You can find additional information about oak mite bite prevention and treatment on the Kaiser Permanente blog.

Baker also had a word of warning: “If you’re feeling anything like fevers or you’re having joint aches, or you feel unwell, that’s probably not an oak mite, and that’d be something you’d want to go see your physician to get looked at,” he said.

Kristi King

Kristi King is a veteran reporter who has been working in the WTOP newsroom since 1990. She covers everything from breaking news to consumer concerns and the latest medical developments.

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