That Itch You Can’t Scratch

They say a perfect paradise would be boring, but I wouldn’t mind trying it for a while.

But “perfect” is not in the cards for me, thanks in large part to my inability to avoid the ravages of the island’s voracious beasts. I am under near constant attack by no-see-ums, as evidenced by the red bumps covering my body and the prolonged itching I endure. It seems like there are lots of different types of bugs biting me but since I can’t see them, I can’t be sure. Maybe there are only two or three very versatile, industrious, and hungry varieties. I can, of course, see the mosquitos (too slow), and the fire ants (too late), but the rest are a mystery.

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You can try to prevent bites. I swear I do try. Our whole house, including the porches, was screened when we came. Most of the screens were torn, but the idea was there, so we replaced them. It helped some, but it really just gives you a false sense of security. You think, Oh, I won’t be going outside tonight, so I don’t need to lather on OFF and wonder what the chemicals are doing to me… But you would be wrong.

Even with the screens, I still get bitten. I even get bitten under the bed covers, and I know it’s not by bedbugs. (Those nasty little creatures each make a row of bites, so even if you didn’t see them, you know the culprit).

Though no matter what preventive measures you take, sooner or later you are going to get bitten. And unless you are luckier than anyone has a right to be, you are going to swell up and itch.

I have been offered plenty of itch-quelling suggestions by concerned, helpful people – many of whom have been battling the island itch much longer than I. While no medical knowledge is implied, perhaps some may do you some good. I’m working my way through the list…

• One piece of advice all helpful parties agree on: Don’t scratch. Don’t even touch. Think about something else. Ignore the bite. If you can do that, chances are the itch will dissipate in a little while (although note: it will seem like several hours).

• Once you can see where the bite occurred, zap it with BiteAway, a heat gun created to mitigate the effect of bites. A friend from England brought one over for me, and it does help, especially if you use it immediately after you’re bitten. You can get it from Amazon, and though I don’t read German, I am pretty sure they cost less if you order them from German Amazon. This gadget makes your efforts to not scratch a bit easier. Possibly because it feels like it is burning your flesh, so you simply want to avoid doing that again.

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• Try holding an ice cube on the bite for a few minutes or, if you have lots of bites, find some cold water to soak in. Icing your bites helps stop the urge to scratch. You can also try a bag of frozen lima beans for large scale icing. You can even refreeze the bag for another use (we’ve had the same two bags for 18 years), but just don’t make a mistake and eat those beans.

• Someone who’s been an islander for 20 years or so swears by rubbing alcohol. Slather it on and don’t scratch.

• Calamine lotion seems to help, though I wonder if it’s a mind trick – it looks so bad on your skin, you figure it must be doing good somehow. Another benefit of the pink goo? You don’t want to touch it again, thus reminding you not to scratch.

• A pharmacist in St. Kitts recommended Hydrohist aka Mepyramine Maleate (2%) + cortisone (.5%). Naturally, this remedy was available at that pharmacy. Again, this works better if used immediately. Oh – and don’t scratch.

• If the top of the bite has a water blister, you were attacked by a fire ant. Zapping it (with the BiteAway gun mentioned above) usually helps. They’re painful, and if I’m desperate, I sometimes poke the blisters and dab the spot with chlorine bleach. I found this idea on the internet, so it must be safe.

• Benadryl pills (or better yet, a generic version thereof – ask your friendly pharmacist) often help, especially if you have lots of bites, but they also make you sleepy and a bit drugged. Sometimes a sacrifice you have to make… whatever you need to do so as not to scratch.

• Gold Bond (pramoxine hydrochloride) might make you feel better. Or it might just be the smell, playing more mind games on you. But who cares; as long as it keeps you from scratching.

• After Bite (spelled with a space) are sticks that just have ammonia in them, according to the label. You could probably just as well dab on household ammonia with a Q-Tip though.

• AfterBite (spelled without a space) are gel sticks that just have baking soda in them. Two questions: A) Isn’t it copyright infringement to have two totally different substances with the exact same name, except for a space? and B) Why not just make a paste of baking soda, cake it on, and let it solidify? At least for that period of time, you won’t be scratching…

• Benadryl Sticks have the same medicinal ingredient as the pills. Perhaps drugging your bites will make them too sleepy to be scratched.

• If desperate to touch the bite, press a cross into the welt with your fingernail (provided you have fingernails). Just don’t scratch. Polish your fingernails instead. You’ll be forced into a strict no-scratching time period while your nails dry.

• If all else fails, go do something really interesting. I just heard the expression, “Dog on the hunt don’t know he got fleas.” It’s gotta be true.

If only I wasn’t so itchy…

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Val Zacharias

About Val Zacharias

Val and her husband Bob retired to Nevis (the small relative of St. Kitts, in the Leeward Islands) in January 2013. They often sit on their porch and smile and say, “This was a good decision.” – though never on those days they have to spend dealing with Revenue Canada. Val is unable to do nothing, so she spends her time doing stained glass, making vases and hangings out of palm fibre, playing bridge, and having a go at baby golf (there are 10 tees and 2 greens). That’s when she’s not fixing things (like the automatic gates that keep out the cattle, sheep, and goats), killing cockroaches with a hammer (because otherwise they get up and walk away), and collecting/trying out all possible remedies for insect bites (many of which somehow appear when there have been no insects in sight). Her dad used to say that in Northern Canada, the mosquitos may be too big to go through the screens, but they bring their little ones along and shove them through the holes, where they grow up and wreak havoc inside. Val has found the same to be true here.

The grocery stores are interesting. They only occasionally have prunes, for instance, but filo (Val thought it was phyllo) dough is readily available. That requires work, though, so it stays on the shelves.

Val has found that the key to living on Nevis is to start all conversations with, “Good morning, good morning, how are you?” and to actually be interested in the answer. People are very friendly and amazingly helpful. The 22 months they have spent on Nevis feels like a nice long summer so far – one nice long summer.

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9 thoughts on “That Itch You Can’t Scratch

  1. O M G! The making a cross on the note with your finger nail was something I thought I made up as a kid in Massachusetts when I would get attacked by mosquitoes! I had no idea others do that too. And by the way, it works wonderfully. I plan on doing that when we move to STX.

  2. O M G! The making a cross on the note with your finger nail was something I thought I made up as a kid in Massachusetts when I would get attacked by mosquitoes! I had no idea others do that too. And by the way, it works wonderfully. I plan on doing that when we move to STX.

  3. Limes!! One of my neighbors swears by them. And since I’m usually out when I’m bitten I gave it a try. You just swipe the bit with a lime wedge and it totally works. Who knew?!

  4. A great story! Here in Grenada, I am bit constantly. My spouse, never.
    I lather myself up, have a boat load of sprays, washes and anti itch stuff.
    We retired here 4 years ago. Am I scarred, yes. We are totally screened!
    I am going to try the limes…a cheap fix.
    Thanks so much, you are a terrific writer.
    And yes, I am not leaving!!!! I love it here!

  5. Great information and wonderful that you can still have a sense of humor! My husband gets bitten much more than I do. Maybe a scientist will one day come up with a way to change our body fragrances!Better yet– a way to make mosquitoes extinct.A New Yorker article a few years ago said they are about the only animal on earth that has no evolutionary purpose ( though I think they do: to minimize the human population).

    • Mosquitos choose different targets depending on where they live, or their variety, or something. In Canada, they bit me and not my husband. In East Africa, they bit my husband and not me, and those were Anopheles Mosquitos, which carry malaria.

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